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Federal funds to help young offenders cut

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OTTAWA -- Programs to help rehabilitate youth offenders will have to be cut if Ottawa doesn't reverse a decision to slash youth justice funding by 20 per cent next year, Manitoba's justice minister is warning.

Andrew Swan wrote to federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson last month after Nicholson quietly cut more than $35 million from the Youth Justice Services program starting in 2013.

Manitoba will get $5.1 million in 2013-14 for youth justice programs, a cut of $1.3 million compared to this year.

The Youth Justice Services Fund was created in 1985 to help provinces deliver services and programs connected to the Young Offenders Act.

For the last several years, the fund has distributed $177 million to the provinces and territories to help deliver a range of youth programming. That includes programs to prevent kids from breaking the law in the first place and to rehabilitate kids who have already been convicted of a crime.

On June 26, Nicholson wrote to the provinces to inform justice ministers funding for the Youth Justice Services program would be set at $141.7 million for 2013-14. The letter says the Justice Department needs to slash $67 million from its budget as part of federal cost-cutting measures, but does not state specifically the youth fund is being slashed 20 per cent. It just states what the amount of funding will be. The cut accounts for more than half of the savings the Justice Department has to find for next year's budget.

Swan said that letter was the first indication of any cuts for youth justice programs, and Nicholson had not consulted the provinces on the issue or breathed a word of the cuts prior to the June 26 letter.

"Frankly, we want the federal government to reverse this decision," he said. "I don't know what we'll do if we have a $1.3-million hole in our budget."

Manitoba uses the federal funds to deliver core programming to youth, both inside the youth centres in Winnipeg and Agassiz, and in the community. It helps pay for probation services for youth, prevention programs for youth at risk of committing a crime and rehab programs to keep them from reoffending when they are released from jail.

In his letter to Nicholson, Swan said if the cuts remain intact, those programs will be cut back.

"These most recent reductions in federal funding are so significant that they cannot be managed without imposing service reductions on our highest-risk and most vulnerable youth populations," Swan wrote.

Julie Di Mambro, spokeswoman for Nicholson, said the government is committed to returning to balanced budgets.

"As part of the deficit-reduction exercise, we will achieve savings by focusing our spending in areas that advance the government's justice priorities such as tackling guns, gangs and drugs, youth crime prevention and youth rehabilitation," she said.

In addition to the Youth Justice Services program, Ottawa is spending $2.5 million annually on a Guns, Gangs and Drugs component of the Youth Justice Fund, $1.5 million on the drug treatment component and $11 million on the Intensive Rehabilitative Custody and Supervision program.

As well, she noted, there is $40 million spent each year on the National Crime Prevention Strategy, of which three of the four priorities focus on youth.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 9, 2012 A5

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