Community Members Key to Help Offenders Says Study

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Thursday December 19, 2013

A statewide study issued by the University of Vermont confirmed that Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSAs) show promise for successfully returning offenders back into the community. The study was conducted for the Department of Corrections by South Burlington resident Kathryn Fox, PhD., of the UVM Sociology Department. CoSAs are based on a Canadian model which has been used for several years for high risk offenders. CoSAs are often implemented in Vermont through the local Community Justice Center. 

 Each CoSA is comprised of 3-5 trained community volunteers that meet with the re-entering offender (core member) weekly for up to a year. The idea is to provide a balance of support and accountability, community knowledge, friendship, and guidance through community members, augmenting whatever professional services are available. The ultimate goal is that there are no new victims in our communities. CoSA volunteers receive training through the Community Justice Network of Vermont.  

Many of the core members interviewed said they would have gone back to jail without the help of their CoSA. CoSA goals are incremental because core members are often those at most risk of reincarceration or re-offense. Staying out of jail, getting a job, staying sober, finding housing, and mending relationships within the community are all goals that are assisted by CoSA involvement.  

When asked why they volunteer, the study notes, “all the (CoSA) volunteers stated a variation on this theme: ‘Ultimately, they’re going to be coming out; they’re going to become members of our community. And do we want to have that 58% or so that keep cycling through the system year after year after year after year at $55,000 a year, or do we want to try and break that cycle some place and turn them into constructive, tax-paying members of society and people that we’d be proud to have for neighbors?’”  

To find about volunteering, to request a copy of the report, or to learn more about CoSAs, contact Lisa Bedinger at the South Burlington Community Justice Center at 846-4215 or lbedinger@sbpdvt.org.