What is CoSA?
Mennonite Central Committee describes CoSA (Circles of Support and Accountability) as “a community-based reintegration program that holds federal inmates with histories of sexual offending accountable for the harm they have caused while supporting them through the reintegration back to community at the end of their sentences.” More information is available at http://mcccanada.ca/learn/more/circles-support-accountability-cosa
CBC puts the question
On March 2, 2015, CBC's “Power & Politics with Evan Solomon” did a 13-minute segment on the cuts to CoSA. Guest Paul Calandra, Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Harper, insisted that “it's wrong to suggest we're actually cutting funding.” See the segment here http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/sex-crime-prevention-program-cut-by-ottawa-1.2979196
What gets lost in the segment is that the $650,000 of core funding to CoSA from Correctional Services Canada (CSC) will be cut to $350,000 on March 31, 2015.
Bottom line: if “the program itself has proven to be effective,” as Mr. Calandra himself says, why has government reduced the pre-existing core funding by half and not found ways to continue the work started under the Demonstration Project?
In my own communications with CSC and Public Safety Canada no one denied that funding will be cut.
Correctional Service of Canada on the record
On March 13, 2015, CSC Media Relations Advisor Sara Parkes sent the following email in response to my questions. I asked about what role the department sees for CoSA in promoting public safety and whether the department is considering ongoing funding for CoSA, in light of the recent report highlighting its success.
"The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) did a rigorous budget and program analysis of Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA). A significant portion of CoSA activity is directed to individuals who have passed their warrant expiry date, which falls outside of CSC’s formal mandate.
"CSC continues to offer offenders access to correctional programs and services for their entire sentences to contribute to their safe reintegration into the community. The management and safe reintegration of sex offenders into the community is a high priority for CSC. Federally sentenced sex offenders receive a variety of interventions and services while incarcerated. In CSC’s institutions, correctional programs of moderate and high intensity are designed to prevent reoffending. During community supervision, programs offered generally include aftercare, counseling, and maintenance. For more information on sex offender programs, please see CSC’s website: http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/correctional-process/002001-2008-eng.shtml
"As of April 1, 2015, CSC will continue to fund three projects that are covered by one contract with the Mennonite Central Committee of Ontario. CSC has a contract with the Mennonite Central Committee of Ontario for the provision of CoSA services in southern Ontario to March 31, 2018.
"CSC strongly encourages its partners to consider alternate ways to secure sustainable, long-term funding to meet their needs. Also, CSC is committed to a strong and effective correctional system that respects the rights of victims and ensuring that victims of federal offenders have a voice in the federal correctional system."
Public Safety Canada on the record
On March 17, 2015, Public Safety Canada spokesperson Josée Sirois sent an email containing the following responses to my questions.
Q: Does Public Safety Canada accept the findings of [the PSC-funded report on the CoSA Demonstration Project]? What response does the department have to the report?
A: As indicated in the National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS), Public Safety Canada is dedicated to knowledge development and dissemination regarding what works regarding crime prevention in Canada. As such, the project evaluation results will be used to inform future direction and evidence-based approaches regarding crime prevention and impacts on recidivism rates. The evaluation report has just recently been completed; in-depth analysis, and knowledge development and dissemination activities will occur as part of the everyday work of Public Safety Canada over a period of time.
Q: Is the department considering providing ongoing funding to CoSA?
A: The Public Safety Canada funding for this project began in Fall 2009 and ended on September 30, 2014. Projects funded under the National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS) can receive funding for a maximum of five years and financing of $7.5 Million dollars. Public Safety Canada contributed the maximum possible contribution for a total of $7,412,971.54 to the CoSA project under the NCPS, which demonstrates the Government’s commitment to preventing crime and making Canadian streets safe. Treasury Board of Canada policies and the Terms and Conditions of this signed agreement prohibit additional funding beyond this amount and timeframe. All applicants are made fully aware that funding is time limited and are encouraged to seek other partners should they wish to continue the project.
Subsequent question: Can I assume that Public Safety Canada does not currently intend to fund CoSA under any other branch of its work, other than NCPS?
Public Safety Canada is not considering this option at this time.
What is a Social Impact Bond?
In order to make up for the funding cuts, CoSA Canada is exploring the innovative Social Impact Bond funding model. The company Finance for Good, is currently working on a proposal for CoSA Social Impact Bonds. Its website describes this approach:
“A social impact bond (SIB) is a pay-for-success contract where a commissioning body – typically the government – commits to pay for the achievement of a desired social outcome, and investors provide up-front financing for the operations of a service provider, receiving a return from the commissioner once results have been achieved.”
Ottawa's take on “Social Financing”
In February, the Standing Committee on Public Safety issued a report on “social financing,” which includes the notion of Social Impact Bonds. You can see the full report here. http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=7832905&L...
Recommendation 8 in the report reads as follows:
“The Committee recommends that the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness work with intermediaries to identify organizations, currently financed by NCPC, which have successful models that may be transitioned to social financing mechanisms and have their five-year contract of funding through NCPC ending in the next two years, or have had their funding end, to consider if their intervention programming could be transitioned to a social finance model to become sustainable moving forward.”
The Clerk of the Standing Committee informed me that the Committee presented its report on February 16, 2105, and that the report contains a request that government table a “comprehensive response” in Parliament within 120 days. It is not known “what timeline, if any, the government might assign to taking action on the report's recommendations.”
The full report on the five-year federally funded CoSA Demonstration Project can be found here.
A few excerpts:
"The majority of sex offenders are released to the community at the end of their sentences, often without a formal process of community supervision. CoSA has been created to address this shortfall by providing support and accountability to high-risk sex offenders who have been designated as high -risk to reoffend, as well as to those who seem most likely to fail due to a lack of prosocial skills necessary for successful transition into a community at the end of their sentences."
"What CoSA does really well, is to help core members transition from incarceration to living within a community, helping to meet their basic physical, emotional, and social needs, providing role modeling of healthy, prosocial behaviors, and ultimately building social capital."
"Although it was originally expected that a CoSA [circle] would run for about two years, whereupon the core member would be functional enough to get on with his own life, we have learned that most core members are such incredibly damaged and socially ostracized people that the circle becomes a virtual replacement for the family and friendly supports that they effectively lost as a consequence of their offending behaviour."
"CoSA is successful precisely because it is seen as outside the criminal justice /mental health system. Trust, a key component of any healthy relationship, grows and develops between a core member and the circle volunteers in large part because of the volunteer and community-based nature of the CoSA model."
“Through its National Crime Prevention Centre (NCPC), Public Safety Canada fosters the development and implementation of evidence-based crime prevention interventions in Canada. To this end, the NCPC supports the implementation and evaluation of community-based initiatives to identify what works, how it works, and what it costs.” –Public Safety Canada website
For a compilation of the studies done of CoSA, as well as a brief overview of CoSA in Canada and beyond, see the website of Robin Wilson. He has been involved in CoSA from the beginning and is the leading CoSA researcher.
Correction (posted March 31, 2015)
A spokesperson for Minister Blaney provided the following response to questions about CoSA.
"Our government believes that dangerous sex offenders belong behind bars. That is why we have put forward a number of important measures to ensure our streets and communities are safe for our children.
"However, we also believe that those who have an interest in rehabilitating themselves should have support. Funding for this particular program has run its course, but we are always interested in partnering with other programs in the future." --Jeremy Laurin, Press Secretary, Office of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness