In a telephone call on February 20, 2014, Correctional Service Canada (CSC) informed Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Ontario that their Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) funding contract will be cancelled on March 31, 2014. All other CoSA sites that receive government funding have also had their contracts terminated.
CoSA assists high-risk sex offenders as they are released from prison. Small “circles” of volunteers and MCC staff become support communities for men whose crimes have marginalized them from society. Volunteers and professionals help “core members” (sexual offenders) to establish themselves in the community upon their release and to develop healthy pro-social behaviours by accompanying them and holding them accountable as they integrate into society.
MCC Ontario has been operating this program for close to 20 years with much success. Research has shown that the risk to re-offend is greatly reduced when ex-offenders receive this kind of support. Consequently, there are significantly fewer victims of violent and sexual crimes.
This decision will affect 18 CoSA programs across Canada. MCC received funding from CSC for programs in Ontario ($325,000 annually) and Alberta (25,000 annually). In addition, MCC provides financial support to CoSA projects in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. Without the government funding, these programs will need to be reduced or eliminated, leaving communities at risk and offenders without the support they need.
“MCC’s long history with CoSAs have shown they are the best way to protect public safety, working with dangerous offenders in the most cost-effective way while also providing a chance for someone who has sexually offended to turn their life around and live offence free,” says Stephen Siemens, restorative justice coordinator for MCC Canada.
In one year the Ontario CoSA program supports about 155 men in several cities, for a total cost of $325,000 (about $2,100 per person). The annual cost of housing a single male inmate in Canada is about $110,000.
MCC is working with other CoSA and MCC partners to have these funding cuts reversed and is inviting people to show their support. A Facebook page has been set up for CoSA Solidarity.
The CoSA website is at http://mcco.ca/restorative/circlesupport.
For history and background information, see “CoSA Funding Threatened (Again) in Canada.”
To hear an interview with Eileen Henderson, MCC Ontario Restorative Justice Coordinator, go to CBC Radio’s “As It Happens” (March 4, 2014), part 2.
—Posted March 6, 2014