Less help for young offenders

“If I actually saw a movement towards having these kids helped, I’d be shocked”



Silence has descended over Nunavut’s youth corrections centre, where no one is willing to discuss recent cutbacks that affect those who need help the most: young offenders.

Just before Christmas the government reduced the number of floor workers inside the Isumaqsunngittukkuvik Youth Centre to three from four. Those workers help supervise the kids inside the centre, as well as take them out for activities like land trips, lifting weights and renting movies on Friday evening.

One floor worker, who asked that his name be withheld, says fewer activities like this are now possible.

Darrel Simon, manager of the centre, became visibly nervous when asked if cutbacks had occurred. “I’d prefer not to answer that question,” he said. However, he added if cutbacks did happen, they wouldn’t affect the programs offered.

But that’s not the case, according to the youth worker. He says the cutbacks make it more difficult to take kids out of the corrections centre, and to properly supervise them once they’re in the community.

“It’s just bad all around for the kids. They don’t get the benefits at all,” he said.

The cutbacks also mean working shifts without taking a break, contrary to the labour code, said the youth worker. “You can’t take a break, unless there’s someone to replace you.”

But he says it’s the indifference shown by government bureaucrats that makes him lose hope.

“If I actually saw a movement towards having these kids helped, I’d be shocked.”

Markus Weber, deputy minister for the department of justice, did not reply to requests for an interview by the Wednesday deadline for Nunatsiaq News.

Whether the children inside the centre become Nunavut’s future criminals or well-adjusted citizens could lie partly in the hands of those who administer services.

This Monday, eight kids were being held inside the centre, although that number can spike up to a dozen a day later.

The kids inside are between 12 and 18 years old, and almost exclusively male. They’re serving time for crimes that range from break and entry and mischief to assault, drug and weapons related charges, and even armed robbery. Their time inside varies from a day to 16 months. Two thirds of their sentence is serviced inside, with the remaining one third in the community — if the kid stays out of trouble.

About 80 per cent of the kids released are expected to reoffend and return to the centre, according to Brent Buckler, the centre’s case programs manager. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of hope that the services provided are doing much good to begin with, according to the youth worker.

He says more treatment for alcohol abuse could be one step towards preventing kids from returning. “Right now we’re just banging our heads against the wall,” he said.

Others inside the centre remain more optimistic.

“Sometimes I see my job as planting a seed,” said Yannick Girardin, the centre’s clinician. He sees each child inmate, on a one-on-one basis, at least once a week. “The youth, they have their own issues. They just need someone to dig with them.”

Kim Cummings has taught in the centre for 12 years. Her kids are a tough lot, and most had dropped out well before serving their sentence. But she says she can’t complain. When she started teaching, she had as many as 22 kids in her class. Right now it’s down to eight — which could make her class the smallest in Nunavut.

She says she hangs on to the little improvements. One boy couldn’t read at all before he entered her classroom. Now he can understand Archie comic books, he’s proud to tell his friends.

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