Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA)

This MRJC service is a community-based initiative that operates on restorative justice principles. Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) assists people who have served a prison sentence for a sexual offence or multiple sexual offences, and who request our help to prevent them from committing another sexual offense. CoSA is a community-based solution to address the problem of offenders who are released back into the community without having any positive support systems to assist them in safe transition and positive reintegration.

CoSA is a “Made-In-Canada” grass roots solution to crime prevention that has been very successful since its development and implementation in Hamilton, Ontario in 1994. In research conducted by correctional services in countries around the world that have adopted CoSA, it is clear that facilitated community reintegration and treatment, substantially reduces the risk of re-offense. To date, four studies demonstrating the effectiveness of the CoSA model have been published in international peer-reviewed journals.

 

When an offender is within three months of the end of their sentence, or if they have already been released from prison, they can make an application to MRJC to request a Circle to assist them. If they meet the program’s eligibility criteria and are selected, they become the Core Member of a Circle of Support and Accountability. The main selection criteria is that the offender or former offender is of high-risk to re-offend, that they are high-needs based and have a demonstrated lack of positive social supports in their life.

Once selected, a group of four to seven volunteers meet with the Core Member (the released offender) and they collectively draft an agreement that clearly defines ground rules, goals and the expectations of everyone in the group. All members of the Circle sign the agreement. Core Members join a CoSA Circle on a voluntary basis and they must commit to leading a positive life -- free of crime.

The form a particular Circle takes depends on the desires, needs and capabilities of the Core Member and the Circle’s volunteers. To begin with, Circles usually meet weekly.  Individual volunteers might have a phone conversation or a meeting with a Core Member another time during the week.

Circles provide a safe space for Core Members to share their frustrations and challenges, to celebrate their successes and to receive feedback on things that they are facing in their life.

Fundamentally, Circles are about creating friendships.  Friendship is not a one-way street.  The support provided to Core Members is not conditional, but it is kept in balance with responsibility and accountability.

The CoSA Circle does not have a mandate to supervise or monitor Core Members. The Circle’s mandate is to provide positive support to the Core Member that assists with their ease of re-entry into society. The Circle acknowledges and fully supports concerns for re-offence potential and overall community safety and stringently holds Core Members and volunteer Circle members accountable to the terms of the agreement.

 

MRJC and CoSA Edmonton work in partnership with Alberta Health Services, Alberta Health Services/Mental Health, Bosco Homes, Correctional Service Canada, Edmonton Police Service, John Howard Society of Edmonton, Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton and the Edmonton Do Likewise Society.

 

CoSA History

The first CoSA was implemented in Hamilton, Ontario in 1994. This movement was started by Mennonite Pastor Harry High, who befriended a mentally disabled sex offender who had served time in prison for sexual offices throughout his lifetime. Another chronic sex offender was released in Toronto a few months later to great public outrage, and Circles were formed to shelter each of these men, and to prevent them from causing any further harm.

Based on the success of the pilot Circles, which kept the two released former offenders from committing further sexual offences, this Made-In-Canada the Circle rehabilitation and support model has spread to cities in countries around the world -- the United Kingdom, Europe, Brazil and Korea to name a few. The success of the CoSA model is based largely on the support and commitment of a group of well-trained volunteers, and the full support that they receive from the communities where the Circles operate.

Edmonton is one 19 cities that operate roughly 200 Circles across Canada. The Circles have an aim to prevent further victimization through accountability and to assist former offenders in their quest to become productive and steadfast members of society.

In 2011, MRJC adopted the CoSA program which had been previously implemented in Edmonton by The Mustard Seed. CoSA is a “Made-In-Canada” grass roots solution to crime prevention which is now a best practice model offered in countries around the world.

CoSA Core Members

The CoSA program typically works with those at the highest risk of reoffending, with the fewest supports and the most challenges.  MRJC works with individuals that most organizations would avoid working with.

Please note that MRJC currently has a waiting list for circles. Circles are assigned based on Core Member risk and needs.

Applicants to the CoSA program are assessed for their suitability based on the following criteria.

  • Have they been convicted of at least one sexual offence?
  • Do they admit to and take responsibility for committing at least one sexual offence?
  • Are they considered a high risk to reoffend based on actuarial assessments?
  • Do they have high needs?
  • Do they lack social supports?
  • Are they within 90 days of, or have they passed their Warrant Expiry Date (WED)?
  • Do they consent to the exchange of information between MRJC and the CoSA program’s Community Partners?
  • Do they agree to share their criminal record with MRJC?
  • Do they agree to communicate openly with MRJC and the CoSA program?
  • Will they divulge crime cycle factors and triggers that will help them to avoid lapses and re-offences?
  • Do they desire to continue in counselling or other programs in the community as recommended by MRJC and other professionals?

Most potential Core Members are bound by various post-release conditions such as a Long-Term Supervision Order (LTSO) or a Section 810. These conditions do not affect Core Member eligibility to participate in the CoSA program. All Core Member selections for a Circle are made in direct consultation with officials from the Correctional Service of Canada and the Edmonton Police Service.

Core Members are usually referred to MRJC by the Correctional Service of Canada or the Edmonton Police Service. MRJC is open to referrals from other agencies, or through direct application by the offender or former offender.

An initial interview is conducted between a potential Core Member and the CoSA Coordinator. This interview is often facilitated by a chaplain, police officer, parole officer or a case worker.

If the potential Core Members meets the program’s eligibility criteria, MRJC and the CoSA Coordinator will review the potential Core Member’s files, history and situation and will make inquiries with community partners prior to making a final decision whether or not to accept the potential Core Member.

If the potential Core Member is accepted, a Circle will be formed by matching the new Core Member to a suitable group of trained CoSA volunteers.

CoSA Volunteer Application

Anyone willing to offer at least one year of commitment to the CoSA program is eligible to be a CoSA volunteer. No special skills are required. MRJC will train volunteers on how to provide friendship and support to someone who has served a federal prison term and is at high-risk to re-offend. Once MRJC reviews your application, we will interview you. If selected, based on your suitability to support a particular Core Member, MRJC requires CoSA volunteers to complete and submit a Police Information Check, a Vulnerable Sector Check and a Reference Check.

CoSA volunteers attend Circle meetings that can happen once a week to once a month based on the needs of the Circle. Circle meetings are more frequent when a Core Member is first released.

Job one for CoSA volunteers is to be a friend and to show true friendship and support to the Core Member.

Other CoSA volunteer support to a Core Member might include the following:

• helping them through a crisis;
• assisting with their community support and access to resources;
• working with the CoSA Coordinator on Core Member community advocacy;
• networking with the Core Member with the CoSA Stakeholder Committee and other vital community supports;
• supporting Core Member risk assessment – to themselves and to the community – in their daily activities;
• promoting a healthy lifestyle to the Core Member;
• confronting the Core Member about inappropriate behaviours;
• encouraging a positive attitude within the Core Member toward community service and society, and;
• celebrating Core Member milestones, achievements and successes along their road to positive reintegration.

If you have any questions about the CoSA program, the CoSA volunteer position or application process, please contact info@mrjc.ca.

CoSA Volunteer Training

MRJC provides comprehensive training to all CoSA volunteers.

Training begins with a half-day workshop to introduce the basics of the CoSA program. This includes the origins and history of the CoSA program, its structure and values, its circle process, the basics of support and accountability, safety, principles of self-care and boundaries. Once volunteers complete the introductory training, they may be placed in a Circle.

Volunteers are also expected to complete the remainder of MRJC’s CoSA training curriculum within their first year of volunteering. Topics include sexual offence in Canadian law, understanding the correctional system, overcoming institutionalization, issues in reintegration, legal controls and community monitoring, sexual deviance, victim and survivor perspectives, risk management and reintegration planning. Training on topics such as addictions, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), and issues in aboriginal cultural will be provided to volunteers as required.

In addition to training specific to CoSA, all MRJC volunteers are eligible to attend other MRJC volunteer training which includes topics such as understanding conflict, communication training, facilitation, restorative process and more.