'Strong disagreement' about closing youth facilities, children's advocate says

The government's decision to close two facilities for young offenders last year is receiving scathing criticism from Saskatchewan Children's Advocate Bob Pringle.

Bob Pringle says province's money-saving move will have consequences for youth

Saskatchewan's Children's Advocate Bob Pringle released his annual report in Regina on Wednesday. (Stefani Langenegger/CBC)

The government's decision to close two facilities for young offenders last year is receiving scathing criticism from Saskatchewan Children's Advocate Bob Pringle.

In his annual report, released Wednesday morning, Pringle says the decision to close the Yarrow Youth Farm in Saskatoon and Orcadia Youth Residence in the Yorkton area was not in the best interests of the youth.

Children's Advocate Bob Pringle is criticizing a government decision last year to close the Yarrow Youth Farm in Saskatoon, as well as another youth facility near Yorkton. (Google Street View)

"The Advocate expressed significant concern about these decisions, as they appeared to contravene the intent, at least in spirit, of the Youth Criminal Justice Act to rehabilitate youth," Pringle said in a statement.

"The decision to close these facilities was made on short notice, without consulting with the youth affected, our office or other community partners."

Instead of being in the best interests of youth, Pringle says, the decision seems to have been made to make room for adult corrections and save money.

"Our office met several times with the Ministry and has spoken publicly to express our strong disagreement with these closures due to the anticipated consequences for the youth in these facilities," Pringle said.

Pringle also met with reporters to talk about his report and noted that the privatization of the food service in youth group homes has led to complaints about quality.

"A number of those young people with pre-diabetes issues and concerns were allowed, I believe,14 slices of bread a day," Pringle said. "Fourteen slices of bread a day, but no access to apples and oranges and grapes for bed time."

An official for the province said there has been work involving the food services contractor "to ensure diets are in place for those that require special dietary restrictions," adding that the Ministry of Corrections "constantly works with youth custody facilities to make sure food being served is high quality and meets the Canada food guide."

It was also noted that the private company has nutritionists on staff to review the food provided.

There were a number of other findings in Pringle's report:

  • 1,500 more children were apprehended by the social services ministry last year compared to 2014.
  • The majority of youth who suffered a critical injury were aged 11 and over. 
  • Assault (including stabbing, shooting, and physical and sexual assault) was the most common cause of injury (28 per cent of cases).
  • 25 per cent of critical injuries were the result of suicide attempts and self-harm.
  • Illness and accidents (unrelated to drugs or alcohol) accounted for 19 per cent and 15 per cent of injuries, respectively.

According to Pringle, the government was making good progress on issues he had been raising, until recently.

"I mean if we're content to have rising numbers of children benefiting from food banks — two-thirds of children living on reserve living in poverty? I hope we're not content with that, but that's the situation," he said.

With files from Stefani Langenegger