Community Plays a Role in Helping Ex-Prisoners (Registered Sex Offenders), Instead of Shunning Them and the Results are Extremely Positive
great article (see below), what a great
program in Vermont!
Vermont offers support, guidance,
accountability and empathy to its Registered Sex Offenders.
in Virginia we continue to expand the restrictions, regulations and barriers
which not only isolates our RSO’s but leads to arbitrary violations costing the
State more money and time…. and for the RSO…. a new conviction.
Vermont’s system is preventing future
crimes while assisting the RSO’s to become contributing members of society.
system has nothing to do with assisting our RSO’s in becoming contributing
members of society…it labels, restricts and regulates our RSO’s……… period.
the difference between a system based on hope, success and proven process
compared to a system based on punishment, anger and vengeance.
being “Soft on Sexual Predators” its
being smart in reducing crime and recidivism rates.
plays a role in helping ex-prisoners, May 15, 2016
MONTPELIER, Vt. — Whenever Travis Papineau's
parents left town, things went wrong. He logged onto the internet and did things
he shouldn't. He got drunk, then got behind the wheel. He acted like a
delinquent teenager, even though he was a grown man.
ended up back behind bars.
registered sex offender, Papineau had been in and out of prison for years. But
this time, he had a plan.
had friends: Community volunteers he'd been meeting with every week for three
months, since he'd last walked out of a cell in January 2015.
his parents' house, the phone seemed to weigh 100 pounds. Papineau forced
himself to pick it up, punch in the number.
Mullaney answered, as she had promised she would. For the next 90 minutes, she
stayed on the line.
The Vermont way
32, is among more than 200 people who, after getting out of prison in Vermont, have
participated in a re-entry program known as Circles of Support and
Accountability. Each Circle contains an ex-offender, a coordinator and a
handful of volunteers who work with parole officers, landlords, employers and
therapists to prevent high-risk sex offenders and violent felons from
committing new crimes.
communities around the nation, including Madison
and the FoxValley
have adopted versions of the Circles model. But all of them lack a critical
element that makes Vermont's effort so successful: a statewide network of
community justice centers — funded by the Department of Corrections — that
marshal volunteers and resources to help keep former prisoners crime-free.
Vermont's program, which began in 2005,
doesn't only benefit ex-offenders, those involved say. It also increases public
safety. Research backs them up. Preliminary results of a University of Vermont
study show that just one in 30 sex offenders involved in Circles was
reconvicted of a felony, compared with roughly one in five of those not
involved — a reduction of 86 percent. For violent offenders who had not
committed sex crimes, the reduction was 80 percent.
treating people like they are not disposable, you are actually helping to
reduce victimization," said Kathryn J. Fox, a sociology professor who
co-authored the study.
addition to helping with basic needs, Circles tackle another problem: the
tendency for former prisoners to fall in with their old crowds — and their old
initiative aims to replace those groups with responsible, caring people who can
help ex-offenders fit into law-abiding society.
volunteer David Santamore sums it up this way: "If somebody goes to jail
and comes back into the same situation with no support, it's like rescuing
somebody drowning, drying them off and then throwing them back in the
Community gets involved
of Support and Accountability got its start in Canada in 1994 when a notorious
pedophile named Charlie Taylor got out of prison.
morning after Taylor was released, all the
schoolchildren in the region of Ontario
where he would be living found 8x10 photographs of him on their desks.
teachers warned: If you see this man, call the police.
In one of
the classrooms, a little boy raised his hand.
him, the boy said. He was at my house for dinner last night.
father was a Mennonite minister. He'd heard Taylor was being set free and had made a
decision: To keep the community safe, the community had to get involved.
minister, Harry Nigh, recruited members of his congregation to befriend Taylor.
Wilson, a clinical psychologist who co-authored the University of Vermont study
with Fox and research assistant Megan Kurmin, was working for the Canadian
government at the time.
both police and citizens were outraged that anyone would welcome a child
molester into society, Wilson
said. But with time, people realized that engaging with Taylor and others like
him could help ensure public safety.
years, the project had expanded throughout Canada.
a place in the community to be and to positively associate are incredibly
important elements of building a balanced, self-determined lifestyle free of
risk to re-engage in harmful behaviors," Wilson said.
involved in Circles, he continued, "learn that there can be people who
care about them, which leads them to care more about themselves and, by
Taylor remained crime-free until his
death in 2005.
Vermont's program grew out of the state's
long history with restorative justice, which teaches that victims, offenders
and communities all need to be healed after a crime occurs.
Gorczyk, who served as commissioner of the Vermont Department of Corrections
from 1991 to 2003, is credited with bringing the concept of restorative justice
to the state.
Gorczyk's first steps when he took over the department was to hire a market
like being a CEO," he said of the commissioner's job. "I thought it
was important that we get a better handle on exactly what the people of Vermont wanted from
justice and corrections."
research showed that only 37 percent of people viewed the corrections
department favorably, according to Derek Miodownik, the department's
restorative and community justice executive. As for what they wanted from
offenders, the public did not express a need for punishment, he said.
they wanted offenders to acknowledge their guilt, accept responsibility and
commit to being crime-free. On the flip side, respondents wanted the
corrections department to provide safety for the public as well as
accountability and treatment for offenders. They also wanted everyday citizens
to have a role in the administration of justice.
step in fostering that involvement was the implementation of community
reparative boards, in which volunteers worked with low-level offenders to help
them understand the impact of their crimes and to make amends.
1998, the corrections department partnered with local governments and
nonprofits to set up the community justice centers. The centers, originally
funded with federal grant money, are neighborhood organizations that work with
ex-offenders and area residents to repair the harm done by crime.
you want justice, you have to have a phone number to call, someone to talk
to," Gorczyk said. "We were trying to move all of justice into the
result of Vermont's smaller population, lower crime rate and more liberal
criminal justice policies, far fewer people are incarcerated there than in
Wisconsin. On any given day in Vermont,
about 8,300 people are under community supervision by the Department of
Corrections. In Wisconsin,
there are about 67,000.
The Vermont legislature
voted to make restorative justice a statewide policy in 2000, and lawmakers
have consistently increased funding for it over time.
there are 20 community justice centers around the state of Vermont. Their annual budget stands at about
$2.5 million. That includes a $600,000 increase for fiscal year 2016,
designated specifically to sustain "restorative reintegration
services" such as Circles.
Wisconsin's truth-in-sentencing laws,
meanwhile, are among the toughest in the nation. And while some criminal
justice leaders here, including Milwaukee County District Attorney John
Chisholm and former state Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske, have embraced the
concept of restorative justice, its implementation has been much more
Chisholm's office, some offenders participate in community conferencing groups,
where they discuss their cases with the victim, a facilitator and a community
representative. The parties may ask each other questions, which often leads to
inmates at the maximum-security Green Bay Correctional Institution, restorative
justice takes the form of a program called Challenges and Possibilities, which
aims to help them change their behavior by understanding its impact. Volunteers
include victims of violent crime, who share their stories with the offenders.
organizations such as Goodwill Industries of Northeastern Wisconsin and
Madison-Area Urban Ministry facilitate Circles in Wisconsin. For fiscal year 2015, the state
Department of Corrections' support for Circles totaled about $250,000, which
was allocated toward the Goodwill effort, according to spokesman Tristan Cook.
The state's total budget for re-entry services that year was $11.6 million.
the Wisconsin Circles function like support groups, in which a number of
ex-offenders come together weekly to talk among themselves and with volunteers.
In Vermont, each Circle
contains just one former prisoner, and only sex offenders or felons at high
risk of reoffending are eligible. Probation and parole officers screen
potential participants, who are then interviewed by justice center directors.
selected, the ex-offenders commit to meeting with their teams at least once a
week for a year. The group can continue meeting beyond that time if all agree.
addition to meetings, volunteers can provide transportation and help with
simple tasks that may be unfamiliar to longtime prisoners, such as using a
cellphone or deciding which groceries to buy.
Circles are an artificial means of support, said Susan Wells, a probation and
parole officer who supervises 45 sex offenders in Vermont.
then they develop trust. If you've been in jail for a long time, you are really
rusty, at best, in how to make a good decision. The group is there to help them
figure it out."
Circles are deeply integrated into the release process.
strengths of Vermont's approach are assistance
with housing and close coordination with probation and parole officers,
according to Fox, the University
of Vermont researcher.
the preliminary results of her most recent study, Circles seem to be most
effective when used with sex offenders.
I don't think it has anything to do with sex offending; that's my theory,"
she said. "I think it has to do with the fact that they tend to be the
ones who tend to be more socially isolated. They have more restrictions. They
have more desperate conditions. They just have a harder life."
offenders subject to lifetime registration are barred from public housing
anywhere in the country. That challenge is magnified by the fact that cities
and towns often place additional limitations on where they may live.
In Milwaukee, for example, an
ordinance passed two years ago bans registered sex offenders from living within
2,000 feet of any school, licensed day care center, park, recreational trail or
playground. As of January 2015, all but 55 residences in the city were off
limits to them.
is an issue in Vermont
as well, especially for people on the sex offender registry. Finding somewhere
to live is the motivation for many ex-offenders to apply for Circles, Fox said.
Community justice center officials build relationships with landlords, who in
turn agree to rent to Circle participants because they have extra supervision.
The program also may provide temporary housing or short-term loans for rent and
security deposits, which former prisoners can repay through volunteer work.
participants in her study, Fox said, disengaged from the group once they had a
place to live. But others embraced their Circles.
time, they saw the benefit later with these other relationships," she
among Circle members and parole officers is another essential element of the
the parole officer sees it as a partnership and appreciates what the (Circle)
can do that they can't, and they have good communication, that's when it works
the best," Fox said.
example, the parole officer can't socialize with the former prisoner or take
him shopping. And while Circle volunteers have more frequent conversations with
the ex-offenders, they can't keep secrets from the parole officer or from each
people in the ... program understand that we won't worry alone and we won't
keep secrets from one another," Wells said. "That keeps everybody on
the same page."
after a conversation with his team about breaking a rule such as drinking or
using a computer, the ex-offender (known as the core member) ends up calling
the parole officer on his own. If not, the coordinator, who is employed by the
community justice center, makes the notification.
violation isn't a crime and doesn't put the community at risk, the parole
officer and the team may work together to fashion an appropriate sanction,
Wells said. Those might include writing an apology letter, attending additional
therapy sessions or wearing an ankle monitor.
the offender can be sent back to prison.
Byrd, director of the Montpelier
recalled one core member who made troubling comments at two meetings in a row.
His coordinator called the parole officer, who in turn called the police.
went to his apartment and caught him before he did anything and he went back
(to prison) and he's still there. That's not a bad thing," Byrd said.
"What I tell people is: 'You need to know that if you're planning to get
out and try to get away with breaking the rules, you're more likely to get
caught if you're in our program.'"
A dose of karma
also includes more subtle things, such as calling out lies, offering reminders
of positive choices and getting a feel for the core member's mood when things
example, at a recent meeting a core member told his team he'd been robbed the
day before — and he was pretty sure he knew who was responsible.
you have to talk yourself down from getting really angry and wanting to go
after the guy you thought did it?" asked Alfred Mills, re-entry specialist
at the Montpelier Community Justice Center and coordinator of the team.
old days, the man would have gotten a crew together and beaten up the guilty
party. But now, after six months of meetings with his Circle, he just shrugged.
like karma," he said. "A kick in the pants for all the stupid stuff I
did in the past."
later followed up: "How do you feel about your own judgment right
was encouraging: "I feel really good. I know what I want. I know what I'm
of person would sign up to spend time with a sex offender or a violent
retirees, according to Fox. Others are ministers or people who see such service
as a religious calling.
left on the political spectrum.
already possessed a critique of the criminal justice system and already
believed the criminal justice system was too punitive," Fox said.
training teaches volunteers how to set limits, such as not giving the core
training also aims to tap into empathy for former prisoners.
to do that is by discussing all the rules core members must live by. For
example, they can't drink, so blowing off steam by having a beer with friends
isn't an option for them. Many are not allowed to drive, so they can't easily
head for the mall or the mountains after a hard week.
training prioritizes security. For example, one team with safety concerns
convened its meetings in the community room at the police station.
In the 10
years of the Vermont
program, no core members have victimized volunteers on their teams, Byrd said.
She credits both the screening by the parole officers and the small number of
program participants. The Montpelier
justice center, where she works, operates eight Circles at a time — the largest
capacity in the state.
not naive," Byrd said. "People have risk areas. Someone who is a
pedophile probably isn't a thief, isn't addicted to substances, probably won't
take your money or your purse, and may be nonviolent in every other way.
their profiles and we know where their risks are."
Knuth, 34, who works at a restaurant and is a partner in a perfume business,
has served on three teams so far.
As one of
the younger volunteers and a single woman, she keeps clear boundaries, rarely
meeting with ex-offenders one-on-one. But she's almost always up for group
outings with her current team's core member, whom she has grown to genuinely
pretty wild," she said. "Never did I think I'd be going bowling with
a registered sex offender and laughing and having fun."
July, about three months after making the phone call from his parents' empty
house, Papineau moved into his own apartment. He's still saving up for a car,
so he rides his bike to work at Dunkin' Donuts, where he is entrusted with the
responsibility of opening the shop in the morning.
been meeting with his Circle for 16 months.
made some strides he's never been able to accomplish," said Wells, his
and Papineau credit his team with helping him do that.
have no friends. I have my family and that's it," Papineau said.
"These are people who weren't my family who I could talk to. ...It's
widening my social circle some."
that first phone call, Papineau has gotten used to reaching out when he needs
ago, he was feeling down on himself after a particularly difficult therapy
appointment. Afterward, he biked to the home of one of the volunteers on his
team. They watched "Shaun the Sheep" and laughed like crazy.