EDMONTON - A successful program to deal with Canada’s highest-risk sex offenders has unexpectedly had its funding cut by the federal government, leaving those who run the program scrambling to keep it going.
“We would have trouble overstating the severity”of the situation, said Scott Drennan, co-ordinator of the Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) program in Edmonton.
CoSA uses community volunteers to work with high-risk sex offenders who have completed their prison sentences and are living free in the community. CoSA’s successes have been documented, including by the federal government, with studies showing a 70 to 83 per cent reduction in sexual reoffences for those taking part in the program. The Correctional Service of Canada website describes the CoSA program as an “effective method for dealing with high-risk, high-needs sex offenders.” A government research report from 2005 found CoSA saved money by reducing the rate of new crimes by high-risk offenders, “ultimately contributing to savings both financially and, more importantly, in regard to human suffering.”
Andrew McWhinnie, who works with CoSA and is a special adviser to the Correctional Service of Canada, said he learned in February that $650,000 in government funding would end March 31. He said the impact of that loss will be severe.
“The community can assume they are less safe on April 1 than they were March 31,” he said.
The program’s government funding will then run dry in September.
Though there are a small number of paid employees and administrators, CoSA’s work is primarily fuelled by volunteers, with 600-700 people unpaid community members working with 155 high-risk offenders around the country. McWhinnie estimated the annual amount of volunteer labour at about $2 million.
McWhinnie said he believes CoSA has “fallen through the budgetary cracks,” and that those who work with the program are now feeling betrayed, hopeless, angry and scared.
“This (program) isn’t just a feel-good thing, “ he said. “We believe this is essential.”
Det. Chris Hayduk, with the Edmonton Police Service’s behavioural assessment unit, said he has seen the impact CoSA has by providing support to sex offenders who are otherwise isolated. He described the program as having a “huge impact” in preventing new sexual offences.
Correctional Service Canada responded to interview requests with only a brief emailed statement which read, in part, “A significant portion of CoSA activity is directed to individuals that have already passed their warrant expiry date ... CSC continues to offer offenders access to correctional programs and services, to contribute to their safe reintegration into the community.”
Susan Logan, executive director of the Mediation and Restorative Justice Centre in Edmonton, said the fact CoSA works with offenders who have completed their sentences is exactly why the program is so important.
“We do this to prevent new victims, and we do that by providing support to offenders,” she said.
The Edmonton chapter operates on about $25,000 a year, and had been doing so well it was about to begin looking for more funding to expand services. Now, Logan said the organization is looking for ways to keep going.
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