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 Edmonton CoSA 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 at high-risk to re-offend and have a demonstrated lack of positive social supports in their life.
Once selected, a group of four to five 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.