Program aims to keep sex offenders from hurting again

Mar. 28, 2013 @ 05:36 PM

No more victims.

That’s the goal of a program designed to keep sex offenders from hurting anyone again.

The program, called Durham Circles of Support and Accountability, is just getting started in Durham, but it’s had a successful track record in Canada for nearly 20 years, according to Drew Doll, coordinator of the local effort.

Doll spoke Thursday at a meeting of the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, telling members that ex-offenders released from prison who went through the program in Canada were 70 percent less likely to reoffend than those who didn’t.

“This program works,” Doll said.

The heart of the program, funded by a federal grant, is the use of “circles” – groups of volunteers who support the ex-offender once he’s out of prison, holding him accountable for his actions.

“We help them live responsible and accountable lives,” Doll said.

Each day, a volunteer calls or visits the ex-offender and “has a real conversation with him” to find out if he’s depressed or having other problems.

Once a week, the entire circle of four or five volunteers meets with the offender.

The “circle” volunteers get 20 hours of training, but they aren’t expected to be therapists. Instead, they’re supported by a team of professionals that provides mental health and drug counseling, for example.

This is the first such program in North Carolina and one of only a few in the United States, although the idea is catching on.

In Canada, it’s been helping released sex offenders since 1994. There are programs in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe.

“[The U.S. government] saw what success this program has had in Canada and the U.K., and said ‘we want to try this here,’ ” Doll said.

“Our goal is no more victims,” Doll said. “One program isn’t going to fix all of it, but we work on a fixing a piece.”

What makes the program work, he said, is that the ex-offender signs a promise – called a covenant – pledging to “obey the rules of his probation and post-release, and to live a responsible, accountable life and not hurt anybody again,” Doll said. “The volunteers agree that they will support and walk with you as you go through this process.”

The daily contact volunteers provides makes a big difference, he said.

“Isolation and secrecy are hallmarks of sexual offense,” Doll said. “When you put people in a relationship [with volunteers], where the ex-offender is getting known by those around him, you start to remove that isolation and secrecy.”

Doll said the vast majority of sex offenders will be released from prison one day.

“Not having a plan for dealing with them is not smart,” he said. “Ignoring them isn’t a good idea.”

“Police can’t do everything themselves to monitor them. The best way to reduce the likelihood of re-offending is to engage with sex offenders so you reduce isolation.”

Doll said a town hall meeting and information session about the program is slated for 6 to 8 p.m. April 25 at the Criminal Justice Resource Center at 323 E. Main St. in Durham. It’s free and open to the public.

The program is a partnership of Durham Congregations in Action, the Durham  County Criminal Justice Resource Center and the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham.

For more information, visit www.durhamcosa.org or call 919-688-2036 or 919-228-0997.