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More adults, fewer youth in B.C. jails

VICTORIA — As the B.C. government works to expand its overloaded prison system to make room for more inmates, the province is following a national trend towards keeping fewer young offenders in jail.

Only 502 offenders aged 17 and younger were sentenced to custody in B.C. in 2005-06, half as many as were sent to jail four years earlier, according to a survey by Statistics Canada.

Nationally, the number of youths in custody fell 63 per cent, due mainly to the implementation of the Youth Criminal Justice Act with its emphasis on diversion away from courts and jails.

B.C. operates three youth custody centres, in Burnaby, Victoria and Prince George. Each one has secure and open custody options, depending on the severity of charges and an individual’s history.

With the adult court and jail system straining its capacity in recent years, the B.C. Corrections Branch is seeking bidders to expand existing regional correctional centres.

One project will add 133 more cells to Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge, and another would add 104 cells to the nearby Alouette Correctional Centre for Women.

Temporary expansion projects are underway at Fraser and Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre on the mainland, after a new provincial prison near Kelowna was postponed last year over aboriginal objections.

Alouette Correctional Centre for Women is a medium correctional centre, as are Ford Mountain in Chilliwack and Nanaimo Correctional Centre.

The facilities have a lower level of physical security than remand and regional jails, using perimeter fences and closed-circuit television to monitor inmates in a variety of work programs.

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