Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) is a community-based reintegration program based on principles of Restorative Justice, that assists ex-offenders who are deemed at high risk to re-offend sexually in their effort to re-enter society. The ex-offender, called a Core Member, participates voluntarily in this program.
A core member generally returns to the community at the end of their sentence with little or no available supports. Groups of three or four screened and trained volunteers form a “Circle” to support the core member and hold them accountable on their journey of re-entry into the community.
The circle meets together regularly (approximately 1 hour per week) and is guided by a written and signed agreement, called a Covenant. Volunteers may also meet individually with the Core Member to provide assistance with re-entry challenges (housing, employment, medical attention, etc.). The Core Member commits to open communication with the group regarding his identified risk factors, problematic behaviour, attitudes, etc. in an effort to end the pattern of sexual offending.
Volunteer members come from all walks of life, from ages 21 and up. They are professionally supported and work in conjunction with community agencies and treatment providers such as psychologists, parole officers, the police, or the courts.
Volunteers are motivated to give of themselves and of their time for a variety of reasons which include:
- A wish to promote restorative justice
- A desire to give back to their community
- Care about the safety of their community
- Feeling drawn towards working with marginalized people
- Need for a valuable place to offer their free time
- A wish to promote healing in their community
Once you complete the mandatory training (approx. 8-10 hours total), we ask that you commit 1-2 hours per week to your Circle. Approximately 4-5 times per year we provide ongoing training and housekeeping meetings to help you learn more about the correctional system, risk assessment, setting personal boundaries and other pertinent topics in order to increase your safety and effectiveness. We want to place you within the most appropriate circle, taking into account the needs of our core members, your interests and experience, and considerations for safety.
As a CoSA volunteer, your rights will be respected and all information you submit is considered confidential.
CoSA Halifax supports the principles of openness and accountability. Reliability checks provide official confirmation of information already self reported by applicants on their volunteer application. This official confirmation enhances the transparency of the volunteer application process and the accountability of the organization.
In the case of former offenders who wish to volunteer, it is important that you tell us about your criminal record and be prepared to tell your circle about your criminal record. Such openness is required of Core members, and CoSA volunteers must be willing to meet the same standard.
CoSA Halifax believes in the safe integration of former offenders within their community, and endorses the healing principles of Restorative Justice. These considerations must be balanced with the greater need for community safety when making decisions to include or exclude an applicant from working with CoSA.
CoSA Halifax acknowledges that criminal record checks do not predict future behaviour, and they cannot guarantee the good character of a volunteer. Therefore, CoSA Halifax will use criminal record checks in conjunction with face to face interviews and reference checks to learn more about each applicant. All this will be done as part of CoSA Halifax’s efforts to promote the safety of the community, the core member, and the volunteers who do this work.
Before being allowed to volunteer with CoSA Halifax, all volunteers will be asked to complete an application form for a CSC Enhanced Reliability check. This background and CPIC check will be completed through CoSA and CSC at no charge to the volunteer.
You will be asked for two pieces of identification showing your current address and full date of birth (Driver’s License – which will be photographed for CSC purposes, Social Insurance Card, Health Services Card, Birth Certificate, Passport, Treaty Card).
If the Check shows that the applicant has a criminal record, the Program Coordinator will decide if the person can volunteer for CoSA Halifax based on the following criteria:
- How long ago the offence happened;
- How serious the offence was;
- How relevant the offence is to the work;
- The applicant’s history since the conviction; and
- The applicant’s attitudes, values and beliefs based on a face to face interview and follow up with references including at least one reference who is fully aware of the applicant’s criminal record and healing journey.