Twenty years ago, June 1994, in Hamilton Ontario, a small community group led by Harry Nigh formed a small community for Charlie Taylor who was arriving in the city, having completed his prison sentence for sexual offending against children. Later that year in Toronto, another community group led by Hugh Kirkegaard and Evan Heise, formed a small circle around Wray Budreo who, like Charlie Taylor, had just completed his prison sentence for sexual offending. In both cases the community was very anxious – and rightly so, as every indication was that Charlie and Wray would re-offend.
At one point I didn’t care about community, and now I care about other people. And that’s a big difference, when you start caring about other people.
~ core member, Circles of Support and Accountability
In both these situations, however, community members involved had a hunch that reducing the risk of re-offenses and enhancing community safety would be more likely through support, inclusion and accountability rather than through isolation and marginalization. Charlie and Wray lived successfully and safely in the community for many years with the assistance of their circles. These two events marked the beginning of Mennonite Central Committee Ontario’s participation in a model that has now become known worldwide as Circles of Support and Accountability.
Through Circles of Support and Accountability, teams of volunteers supported by professionals, meet with sexual offenders to hold them accountable for their actions and help them reintegrate into the community after release from prison. The model is built on several key statements: no one is disposable; no more victims; and no more secrets. In Ontario today, over 150 Circles members are supported to live safely in community.
The Circles of Support and Accountability model is working to build safer communities by fostering inclusion and community integration. In the words of a core member: “It’s given me a sense of responsibility. At one point I didn’t care about community, and now I care about other people. And that’s a big difference, when you start caring about other people.”
Independent research has shown that the circle model is effective in lowering repeat offenses, which leads to fewer victims and safer communities.
On November 12th, MCCO hosting an event celebrating our 20th anniversary with Circles of Support and Accountability. We invite supporters to join us for an evening of celebration, reflection and visioning. Together we can build safer and healthier communities. Please RSVP to Laura VanderGriendt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 519-745-8458 ext. 214
This story was originally published on Oct 29; updated Nov 4.