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The Value and Effectiveness of CoSA VFV circles

CoSA offers community support for sexual offenders in British Columbia. Core Members are given circles after incarceration for a variety of sexual crimes, such as possessing and distributing child pornography. Please click on the topics below to find out more.
  • What is CoSA?
    CoSA (Circles of Support and Accountability) is a volunteer driven, community-based program that enhances community safety by providing support and holding accountable sex offenders returning to his/her community after incarceration. The CoSA Model is as follows:
  • What are CoSA B.C. Circles?
    The released inmate (referred to as the Core Member or CM) is “surrounded” by up to four community volunteers who together form a Circle. The Circle supports and holds the CM accountable through weekly group meetings, and contact throughout the week as needed.
  • What happens in a typical Circle meeting?
    In his/her weekly meetings, CoSA Circles start with each member checking in about his/her week. Volunteers are asked to share about recent events or a struggle they have dealt with. Checking in sets the tone and demonstrates to everyone that both volunteers and Core Members (CM) face challenges daily. After check-in, the group dives into relationships, risk factors, and situational factors specific to the CM. The Circle Volunteers are trained to recognize behaviour that may raise concerns. The Circle addresses the CM’s behaviours, thoughts, fantasies, and perceptions. Volunteers emphasize compliance with supervision, addressing risk factors, targeting criminal thinking patterns, challenging assumptions, and helping to form pro-social attitudes thereby reducing the overall risk of reoffending and adding another layer of community protection. The Circle also helps the CM by assisting with the various challenges of re-entry into his/her community, such as securing housing, limited employment opportunities, health care, transportation, potential mental health concerns, substance abuse, etc. In addition, because of his/her offences, they may have limited access to pro-social activities and restrictions limiting contact with his/her family members, so the Circle provides a supportive environment to address the social and practical needs of the CM. CoSA Volunteers at 2020 Banquet
  • Who is eligible for a Circle?
    CoSA is offered to all (male, female, or transgender) who have been incarcerated for a sexual offence and acknowledge that they are at risk of reoffending. They must be committed to living a crime-free lifestyle and willing to work on the risk factors that contributed to his/her offending.
  • How does someone become a Core Member of a Circle?
    Potential CMs are found through referrals which can come from Provincial and Federal Correctional facilities, criminal justice agencies, other community agencies and self-referrals. The prospective CM is interviewed by the CoSA Program Coordinator, who will then determine eligibility and future steps for CoSA participation.
  • Is being part of a CoSA Circle voluntary for a Core Member?
    Potential Core Members request a Circle and choose voluntarily to participate in CoSA. Having a CoSA Circle demonstrates to the Core Member that the community is supportive and this can have a very positive effect.
  • What is expected of a Circle Volunteer, and what are Volunteers’ responsibilities?"
    Committing to volunteer for a minimum of 1 year. Participating in an initial training session (3-4 hrs.), ongoing training and additional 4-hour advanced training sessions scheduled twice a year (March and September). Attending weekly meetings with the other Circle members. Supporting the CM and assisting the CM in making good decisions through mentorship and Circle discussions. To learn more about volunteering with CoSA, click here.
  • What do volunteers do and not do?
    Circle volunteers always work as a cohesive support group. Volunteers are chosen from the same community as that of the returning citizen and strive to help the Core Member successfully re-integrate into the community. For detailed information regarding Circle Volunteer requirements, click here.
  • What does volunteer training include?
    To see an outline of basic training click here.
  • How long does a Circle last?
    Every Circle is unique and is designed around the needs of the Core Member. All members are asked to commit for a minimum of 1 year. If the Coordinator identifies that there is a need to continue supporting the CM and manage the risk he/she represents, it may extend beyond a year. The need for a Circle should diminish over time because the CM should be developing other appropriate and safe support networks. As participation in the program is voluntary, the Core Member may withdraw from the program at any time he/she wishes.
  • Why do Circles work?
    CoSA works - sexual offending is reduced by over 80%. Circles fill a gap between programming and community-based supervision. Circles build relationships and trust through activities that promote friendship such as outings, accompanying Core Member to activities, meetings, and going for coffee. For many CMs, this is the first time in his/her life that they are engaging in healthy relationships with people who genuinely care about his/her well-being and who aren’t being paid to spend time with them. The relationship itself is fundamental to CoSA’s success. For many Core Members, a CoSA Circle provides his/her only source of friendship and support following his/her release into our communities. Isolation is a key factor in recidivism. Core Members are often more open and honest with his/her Circle than with correctional staff. This openness and honesty provide members of the Circle with insight into emerging concerns regarding the Core Member’s mindset and behaviours. Deteriorating attitudes are challenged and addressed.
  • Why become a Circle Volunteer?
    CoSA Circle Volunteers choose to actively participate in protecting the communities they live in. They choose to support and hold accountable someone who has been previously convicted of a sexual offence. CoSA Volunteers help reduce a person’s likelihood of reoffending, thereby facilitating public safety. To learn more about becoming a Circle volunteer, Click Here.
  • How do CoSA Circles facilitate public safety?
    Sex offenders face some of the greatest challenges re-integrating back into communities because of strong stigmatization and isolation from the public. As such, they often receive the least amount of assistance and have the most stringent conditions, which make re-integration more challenging. Consequently, it is vital to target this population with programs like CoSA to ensure community safety. CoSA successfully bridges the gap between correctional programs and resistant, sometimes hostile communities. A study released in 2004 by Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness Canada found that the recidivism rate of released sexual offenders within the first 5 years of release was 14% with an additional 7% from 5 to 10 years, dropping to 3% from 10 to 15 years.* This indicates that the critical period for reducing sexual assault re-offences lies within the first 5 years of release for the returning citizen. CoSA seeks to bridge the gap between programs offered by Provincial and Federal Corrections for reintegrating citizens, by offering Community Support and Accountability on an ongoing basis to both support and challenge the returning citizen during the critical first years following release. Research shows an 83% reduction in sexual re-offences by a returning citizen when he/she participates in our project.** *Sex Offender Recidivism: A Simple Question, Andrew J.R. Harris & R. Karl Hanson, Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness Canada, 2009 ** Circles of Support & Accountability, A Canadian National Replication of Outcome Findings, Wilson, Cortoni & Vermani, 2009 The research findings show that Circles of Support and Accountability can break the vicious cycles of isolation and stigmatization that sex offenders experience on his/her re-entry into communities; thus preventing sexual reoffending.
  • Where did the CoSA Circle concept originate?
    It originated in Hamilton, Ontario in 1994. For more information about the origins of CoSA, click here.
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