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Vermont Group Support Program To Reduce Recidivism Shows Promise

Built into its reentry system for people leaving prison, Vermont has established Circles of Support and Accountability, or CoSAs, as an approach to keeping those who’ve committed sexual crimes from reoffending, The Appeal reports. Vermont’s CoSAs are made up of volunteers who meet regularly with those coming out of prison after sentences for serious crimes, meeting typically once a week for a year, though at least half the groups extend beyond a year. They offer encouragement, advice, and watchful eyes, helping the person at the center, or “core member”, with goals they’ve set for moving back into the community offense-free.  Every quarter, an “outer circle”—including their probation officer, substance abuse provider, family members, and friends—gets together to share their perspectives with the impacted person.

The circles model started in Canada in 1994. But in the U.S., only Vermont and Minnesota have built CoSAs into state reentry policies. The results have been remarkable. Studies show that nationally, the vast majority of those with a past sexual crime don’t reoffend in the first place. But several studies have found that those who go through the circles model have lower rates of any type of reoffense than those who don’t. A 2018 study of Minnesota’s program showed it yielded a benefit of about $41,000 per participant in state costs avoided–in particular cutting the expenses of reimprisoning someone and the costs borne by new victims. Vermont CoSA’s advocates are mystified as to why other states ignore its results. In conversations with The Appeal, experts and proponents said interstate community activists may need to launch their own circles to show state leaders what’s possible.


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