Ottawa Will Reinstate Some Sex-Offender Program Funding

14 Jun, 2014

The federal government has partly reversed a spending cut after being told the cut could expose Canadians, especially children, to greater risk from dangerous sexual offenders.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney asked Correctional Service Canada (CSC) to reconsider cutting off a program called Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA). Circles try to help integrate sexual offenders into society when they are released from prison.

The announcement followed two straight days of opposition questioning the decision to stop funding Circles, which has been copied in the US, United Kingdom and Europe.

“Canadian families know they can count on our government to take strong action to protect children from sexual predators,” Blaney said.
A day earlier, Blaney defended the cuts in the House of Commons, saying it wasn’t part of the CSC’s mandate to fund ex-convicts who are no longer on parole.

CoSA has proven its value over the past 20 years, said Ron Melchers, a University of Ottawa criminologist. “It’s been one of the most successful programs dealing with any released group of offenders,” Melchers said. “It’s been almost a lighthouse in terms of success.”

This change of heart doesn’t fully rescue the program. The CSC said only $650,000 of the $2.2 million Circles has received annually since 2009 will be restored.

Canada’s National Crime Prevention Centre (NCPC) has provided $7.5 million over five years to expand CoSA projects as part of a major evaluation of their effectiveness. But the results of the evaluation aren’t expected until December, and the funding lapses at the end of September.

Melchers accused CSC of ‘sabotaging’ five years of work and its own reputation as a leading correctional organization by cutting the CoSA program loose without waiting for the NCPC’s evaluation report.

One study in 2007 found that sex offenders involved in CoSA had an 83% reduction in sexual reoffending compared to offenders who were not in the program. About 700 volunteers across Canada are involved in Circles with nearly 200 released sex offenders.

That would force restructuring from a professional national organization to one largely run by volunteers operating from their homes, according to Andrew McWhinnie, a Vancouver psychologist on contract to advise Ottawa on the program.
“After September, we are back to the kitchen table. Half of Circles’ staff will be let go, offices, phones and infrastructure will close,” McWhinnie said.

He said the program will have to downsize to the 50 or so it handled before the injection of federal funds in 2009.
Bob Cormier, a former executive director of the NCPC and member of the Ottawa CoSA board, said he believes CSC has a responsibility to be involved in CoSA because of its mandate to protect public safety.
“It clearly isn’t any other public agency mandate.

Whatever happens, the Ottawa CoSA and others across the country are determined to continue their work,” Cormier said.

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