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Circles of Support and Accountability: Engaging Community Volunteers in the Management of High-Risk Sexual Offenders

NCJ Number
Howard Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 46 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2007 Pages: 1-15
Robin J. Wilson; Andrew McWhinnie; Janice E. Picheca; Michelle Prinzo; Franca Cortoni
Date Published
February 2007
15 pages
This article describes a restorative approach to the risk management of high-risk sexual offenders in the community in Canada that relies on professionally-facilitated volunteers: the Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) model.
The main goal of the COSA model is to reduce the risk of future sexual offending by assisting and supporting released men as they attempt to integrate into the community. The program originally targeted offenders released at the end of their sentences because this group of offenders is released without a formal process of aftercare. COSA is a community-driven model that relies on volunteers who are supported by professionals. In most communities, COSA programs are guided by an advisory panel and professionals train, support, and educate community volunteers to work with offenders as they integrate into the community. Volunteer recruitment has been the most difficult challenge facing COSA programs. The majority of volunteers have been recruited from faith communities. The COSA model was founded following a high-profile case in 1988 in which a released sex offender murdered an 11-year-old boy, galvanizing the Canadian society to push for sociopolitical change regarding the management of sex offenders in Canada. The ensuing 10 years were marked by numerous attempts to ensure greater official control of sex offenders, particularly repeat sex offenders released from prison at the end of their sentences. In an effort to supervise and provide community opportunities for a convicted sex offender released in 1994, the COSA model was developed by a Reverend who formed a group of supportive volunteers. A short time later, the Mennonite Central Committee of Ontario (MCCO) accepted a contract from the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) to establish a pilot project based on the Reverend’s approach that would be capable of being broadly implemented. Formalized in 1996, the COSA has been widely implemented across Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Empirical evaluation data has supported its effectiveness. Figure, note, references


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