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CIRCLES of SUPPORT and ACCOUNTABILITY: Final Report Prepared for the State of Vermont Department of Corrections

November 2013 Vermont:

In spring 2010, Professor Fox was contracted by the State of Vermont Agency of Human Services, Department of Corrections, to conduct a qualitative evaluation of their Circles of Support & Accountability (CoSA) program, specifically those funded by the federal Second Chance Act.

CoSA will be explained in detail, but in short, CoSA is a community-based, non-professional model for assisting high-risk offenders returning to communities. Other jurisdictions that utilize CoSA confine their use to the management of high-risk sex offenders, but Vermont is unique is applying the model to other types of serious offending.

The CoSA reentry program in Vermont was funded by the Second Chance Act of 2007: Community Safety through Recidivism Prevention (H.R. 1593/S. 1060), which has been funded by the U.S. Congress in increasing amounts over the past several years.1

The initial funding supported 24 CoSAs in Vermont (described in detail below). Part of the grant narrative and budget allocated funds for an evaluation. Rather than a quantitative study about re-offense rates, which the Department of Corrections (Corrections) can calculate for itself and may not be significant in such a small sample, Corrections requested an in-depth qualitative analysis of how CoSA works.

In particular, there is a small but solid body of literature out of Canada that measures the impact of CoSA in studies that compare quasi-experimental groups to control groups. These studies have found a significant reduction in recidivism for high-risk sexual offenders —at times as great as a 70% reduction in re-offending among those with a circle of support & accountability compared to those without one (Wilson, Cortoni, & McWhinnie, 2009; Wilson & Prinzo, 2001; Wilson, Picheca, & Prinzo, 2005).

When the Second Chance Act was re-funded in 2011, Corrections rolled its existing grant into the new funds and committed to funding a total of 48 CoSAs from this funding source, inclusive of both grants. This evaluation project was extended with the intention to include 48 CoSAs; however, as setting up CoSAs takes time, and are implemented incrementally, not all 48 are yet functional, or have not been operational long enough to be evaluated appropriately. The new forthcoming funding stipulations disallow a continuation of the grant in the form of a no-cost extension, thus it was decided by Corrections that the evaluator should complete the report based on the existing CoSAs. All CoSAs that were presently functional or that had been completed were evaluated.2 The number of CoSAs evaluated was 21, which includes 21 core members (released offenders), 59 volunteers and 9 reentry coordinators. The evaluation includes a total of 89 participants. ..Continued.. by Kathryn J. Fox, Ph.D., University of Vermont, Department of Sociology

Within the Second Chance Act of 2007 is this:

(a) Eligible Offenders.--
(1) In general.--In this section, the term ``eligible
offender'' means an individual who--
(A) is 18 years of age or older;
(B) has been convicted as an adult and imprisoned under
Federal or State law;
(C) has never been convicted of a violent or sex-related
offense; and

(D) except as provided in paragraph (2), has been released
from a prison or jail for not more than 180 days before the
date on which the individual begins participating in a grant
program carried out under this section.
(2) Exception.--Each grantee under this section may permit not
more than 10 percent of the individuals served with a grant under
this section to be individuals who--
(A) meet the conditions of subparagraphs (A) through (C) of
paragraph (1); and
(B) have been released from a prison or jail for more than
180 days before the date on which the individuals begin
participating in the grant program carried out under this

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