The COSA steering committee is led by Nick McGeorge, who lives in Durham and in England and was a principal psychologist in the English prison system. He started circles in the United Kingdom in 2002. Circles were first developed in Canada in 1994, and both projects have been successful in reducing rates of reoffenses. The Durham COSA steering group includes representatives from the N.C. Department of Public Safety, Durham Criminal Justice Center and those will experience in corrections, community support for ex-offenders, child protection work, restorative justice and criminal courts.

....Gudrun Parmer, director of the Durham Criminal Justice Resource Center, said that Durham is fertile ground for COSA because of what it already has in place. 

“We already have faith teams [for prisoner re-entry programs] and an interested and active community who believe in rehabilitation,” she said. However, talking about sex offenders is uncomfortable, Parmer said. Volunteers participate for different reasons, she said. Some because of their faith and interest in restorative justice and surrounding them with positive people, Parmer said. Others might be interested because they are connected to the criminal justice system and this is a new model, she said. Volunteer training begins this weekend.

Circles of four to seven people will form around a registered sex offender, called the core member. The core member will be on supervised probation through the criminal justice system already. Circles will visit the offender’s home and meet with the individuals weekly to hold them accountable, as well as help them with re-entry issues like housing and employment. The offenders are in the circle voluntarily. The first person in a Durham circle will be released from prison in May.

Parmer said that many people coming out of prison have no one to go home to, and having a circle is a positive thing.

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