Although it has been operating in Edmonton for less than two years, a program to help stop released sex offenders from re-offending in their communities is experiencing remarkable success.
Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) is composed of community volunteers who provide a “circle” of support for sex offenders released from jail to help integrate them back into the community while holding them accountable.
The main goal of CoSA, whose mantra is “No More Victims,” is to reduce the risk of future sex crimes by assisting and supporting released offenders who are often shunned by their friends, families, and communities out of fear.
Susan Logan, executive director of the Edmonton-based Mediation and Restorative Justice Centre, was the main driving force in bringing the program back to Edmonton, where it had previously failed due to a critical lack of funding.
“CoSA has clearly demonstrated through its history that, given support, people can live without re-offending, not only sexually but in other crime areas,” Logan told The Epoch Times.
“By creating that pseudo-community, providing those supports to the person, it gives them that opportunity. Otherwise, if they’re just stigmatized and isolated it’s very difficult for them to make the changes they need to make to be able to live crime-free in communities.”
Logan says she has seen a fundamental change in the individuals who have been involved with various CoSAs in Alberta.
“In the majority of groups that CoSA has done, people have not re-offended sexually. They may have done other things, but they have not re-offended sexually,” she says.
CoSA has clearly demonstrated through its history that, given support, people can live without re-offending.
— Susan Logan, Mediation and Restorative Justice Centre
“But even when [re-offending] happens, these are people who develop caring relationships to try to support the person as best they can, no matter what’s happening.”
The program returned to Edmonton in 2011 and has been operating in Calgary since 2002. Logan estimates at any given time there are between 10-15 circles working with offenders in Alberta.
Logan notes the Alberta program is particularly crucial because of central Alberta’s Bowden Institution. Bowden is a main prison centre for sex offenders on the Prairies, who are regularly released from the institution after serving their terms.
CoSA attempts to address the dilemma of individuals who have been convicted of violent offenses and have no positive, pro-social mechanisms to assist with their safe adjustment to the community upon release.
Former offenders, referred to as “core members,” participate in the program voluntarily, and sign a “covenant” with CoSA volunteers committing to leading a positive, crime-free life.
Logan says the circles help individuals with the “day to day difficulties” of re-integrating in communities such as finding work and a place to live, but believes their success stems from the unconditional friendship that is offered, something sex offenders may have never experienced in their lives.
“This is 24/7 support that the person receives from other individuals in the community who would like to see them succeed,” she says.
“People develop genuine caring relationships, which provides [the offenders] with an opportunity to be recognized as a person who has good things and bad things, and sees them as a whole person versus seeing them only as an offender.”
Success Leads to Growth
The program was started in Hamilton, Ontario, by Mennonite Minister Harry Nigh, who was asked to help find a way to re-integrate notorious pedophile Charlie Taylor into the community. Taylor was mentally disabled and at an extremely high risk of re-offending when he was released from prison in 1994.
Taylor died in 2006—12 years after his circle was formed—without ever committing another sex crime. The program spread, and its success was staggering.
Studies by Correctional Services Canada, a sponsor of CoSA, showed offenders who participated in the circles had a 70 percent reduction in sexual recidivism compared to the non-CoSA group. There was also a large reduction in violent recidivism in the CoSA group.
Since its beginnings in eastern Canada, the program has spread to most major Canadian cities and around the world.
“CoSA is now around the world and people are talking about the substantial difference that it makes for the people that receive it,” says Logan.
Logan adds that before CoSA started there was really no other community-based support for sex offenders. Rehabilitation programs focused on addressing their mental health issues, but without the day-to-day support and accountability, offenders were still extremely likely to reoffend, she says.
“Because of the ostracism, because of the stigma, because of those things that happen with sex offenders, giving them the opportunity to reintegrate into the community is very difficult if there is no support,” she says.
She adds that the circles help sex offenders be more successful in other programs they may be involved with that enable them to “look at what it is that creates that drive [to sexually abuse].”
“The CoSA program provides them support from caring individuals to help them to be able to be successful at all of the other things that they are trying to do.”
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 21 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.