Saturday, November 24, 2007

Circles of Support in VT

Good overview in the Boston Globe of VT's efforts to import Canada's "Circles of Support" reentry program that links returning offenders to community members to establish the kind of communal ties that, in Canada anyway, keep the returnees from wanting to re-victimize.

Support teams, called "circles of support and accountability," meet weekly to check on former prisoners in Newport, St. Johnsbury, Barre, Montpelier, and Brattleboro. Each offender works with a small team of volunteers, who begin meeting with the offender before he or she leaves prison. The teams are supervised by local community justice centers, state-funded agencies that work with crime victims and offenders. Paid coordinators, who are employed by the centers, lead the groups and help make sure offenders stay on track. The offenders have been released from prison under state supervision; all have counselors or probation officers who also keep tabs on them.

To make them feel part of the team, the volunteers refer to the offenders as "core members." The teams discuss the effects of the crimes the offenders committed on their victims and the community.

Of course, the initial fed funding is about gone and Congress is eternally screwed up so who knows if it will keep going. Nevertheless, some other states like CO are apparently looking into it as well. I studied a mentor program in an OK city a decade ago that tried similar things, a DA on his own initiative working through his church to accomplish much the same thing. A couple of problems--the volunteers in the community tend to burn out, so you need to be able to replenish the pool and recharge their batteries. Also, the DA ended up in a federal prison. But still, the idea is worth development, even if it is Canadian, and it will be interesting to see where this goes, although needing Congress to get its act together is not the easiest obstacle to overcome.

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