Criminal Justice Sabbath: Lent 2016 For those in the Christian community, Lent starts next week and EMO's CoSA project has teamed up with our friends at the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon's Prison Ministry Commission to bring you a great resource. If you lead worship or Christian education activities, or just want to learn more yourself, check out the LENT 2016 WORSHIP RESOURCE GUIDE that we wrote. It contains sermon samples, prayers, hymn suggestions, statistics, and education resources.
This year, we have not picked a single date for Criminal Justice Sabbath, but instead invite Christian congregations to frame their worship around these themes on any day in Lent that fits.
The Rev. Tom English has been a tireless advocate for justice and a minister alongside those within the prison system, and we are grateful for his reflections in this guide. Both he and CoSA Manager the Rev. Audrey DeCoursey are available to come to YOUR faith community for in person presentations on your Criminal Justice Sabbath, or throughout the year. With Rev. English in the Eugene area and Rev. DeCoursey in Portland, we hope to offer a word of good news across the state.
About the Circles of Support and Accountability Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) follows a restorative justice model, with the goal of healing both individuals and a community after violent crime. The hope of CoSA is simple yet profound: No More Victims. The program works alongside the treatment and supervision that sex offenders are already provided, by offering practice in pro-social relationship building.
Here’s how the Circle works
An individual sex offender (the core member) is surrounded by an inner circle of community volunteers, who meet weekly as a group through the first year of the core member’s release from prison. This inner circle is supported in turn by an outer circle of professionals, including the circle coordinator. Volunteers are provided with extensive training about sex offenders and safety. Core members are selected for the best match with the program and participate voluntarily.
Volunteers in the CoSA inner circle model healthy relationships and socialization for the core member. Volunteers come from diverse backgrounds but with a shared commitment to the Circle. They start by together writing a covenant to guide their gatherings. They offer the ministry of friendship. This friendship doesn’t keep secrets, and it allows time for trust to deepen. CoSA volunteers understand the value of boundaries in relationships and model this with one another and the core member.
Why CoSA Circles matter
Sex offenders face numerous unique challenges upon their release from prison, such as finding housing and employment, with a serious criminal record; in addition, their social connections have often been severed, by their offenses and by the length of incarceration. But isolation and secrecy can increase the offender’s likelihood of reoffending. CoSA aims to decrease that isolation, to help core members establish healthy relationships and find a source of hope to work toward.
Citizens are understandably concerned when a high-risk sex offender is released into a neighborhood. The vision of CoSA is that a community has the power to take part in the process of healing after the rupture of a sex offense. Sex offenses are not just private matters, and communities can play a role in decreasing future victimization.
Circles of Support and Accountability is a program that started 20 years ago in Ontario, Canada, and has since been replicated in cities across Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the United States. We are excited to bring CoSA to Multnomah County because they work—studies have shown recidivism rates decline by over 70 percent, and core members report gratitude for the social support they might never have found otherwise. CoSA circles are a powerful tool for our community response to the fact of sex offending in our midst, to help reduce harm and prevent crime. Together, we can work for a future with no more victims.
Circles of Support and Accountability is possible only because of community volunteers like you, who are committed to reducing harm and helping prevent future victimization. We welcome volunteers as individuals or small groups. Our philosophy is based in restorative justice, believing that the community has an important role to play in reentry and public safety.
A team of roughly four volunteers works with each client (the Circle's "Core Member") to form the Circle. The Circle meets weekly as a group and volunteers check in throughout the week, for the Core Member's first year out of prison. Our Circles primarily serve clients who are high risk and often who have very serious criminal histories, including those with sex offenses in their records.
Your safety as a volunteer is of utmost importance to us. Through training and our community partnerships with local and international professionals in the field , volunteers are empowered with evidence-based knowledge about risks and ways to help people who often are misunderstood and feared.
Volunteers are trained by local professionals in criminal justice and treatment fields. They are certified as reentry mentors through the Oregon Department of Corrections. Volunteers thus enjoy the opportunity to learn about the legal system and prison issues in a hands-on way. This volunteer opportunity offers a way to serve the community that concretely makes our society safer, and it is extremely rewarding for the volunteers who are involved. This work uses an individual's personal social skills and strengths, as well as the power of a team working cooperatively.
The model for the Circles came out of Canada over 20 years ago, as a grassroots effort to support someone who would have no positive contacts in the community he was returning to. As the model has spread across Canada and now the United States, research has shown this to be an effective way to reduce recidivism. Evidence shows what communities have known for generations: that humanity - compassionate relationship that balances support and accountability - is what truly changes lives for good.
To get involved or find out whether this is a good fit for you , please contact CoSA at (503) 988-8580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Our next training will be held in late February and March, so this is a great time to get involved. Thank you for taking part in the restorative justice movement with CoSA.
Thank you for helping our communities to have No More Victims.
March 12 CoSA Training Part I: CoSA History, Circle Dynamics, and Reentry Realities for Sex Offenders. 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Interchurch Center, 0245 SW Bancroft St (at Kelly), Portland (directions here). Lunch and refreshments will be served. Training is free for registered volunteers. Volunteer for Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA),and learn about an effective way to prevent violence. Circles of involved community members form positive social support for high-risk offenders coming out of prison. The hope of CoSA is simple yet profound: No More Victims - one person at a time. Circles follow an effective restorative justice model, working alongside the treatment and supervision offenders are already provided, by offering practice in pro-social relationship building to help someone integrate into the community as a responsible, healthy citizen. RSVP for this training and find out more: phone (503) 988-8580, email email@example.com.
Rev. Audrey deCoursey
Program Coordinator, Circles of Support and Accountability
Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon
In partnership with the Dept. of Community Justice, Multnomah County
421 SW Fifth Avenue, ARC, 3rd Floor, Portland, Oregon 97204
Phone: (503) 988-8580 (office), (971) 279-9724 (cell)
Fax: (503) 988-4898 firstname.lastname@example.org