News that a national program to help high-risk sex offenders is losing federal funding will likely affect the services of a charitable organization in St. John’s.
The Canadian Press has reported that Correctional Services Canada will not fund Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) beyond the end of March. The program supports 18 projects across Canada, including the one overseen by Turnings, a St. John’s-based group that helps former inmates.
Turnings founder Dan McGettigan knew the program was at risk, but was not aware of the funding cut when contacted by The Telegram Wednesday.
“This is a surprise, frankly, to hear this,” he said.
McGettigan came across CoSA in the mid-1990s while working as a parole officer in Hamilton, Ont. He was impressed and decided to incorporate the program into Turnings, which he founded in 1992 and originally called St. John’s Metro Community Chaplaincy.
“I don’t think they should be losing things like CoSA or any other community support, because you’re only going to enhance the danger for the community,” said McGettigan.
The circle includes an ex-offender and anywhere from four to six trained volunteers.
“I have to say, it works,” said McGettigan, who estimates there have been more than 60 participants in the circle since Turnings adopted the program.
“Some stay for a year. One guy is here now 13 years, some five, some six. It’s not therapeutic. We don’t do therapy, because we’re not trained to do that, but it is an atmosphere where if you’re in the circle, you just kind of talk about things.”
Turnings has not limited participation in the program to released sex offenders. It was also not a part of CoSA’s national demonstration project with Public Safety Canada’s National Crime Prevention Centre. CoSA is set to also lose funding from that arrangement when a five-year contract concludes at the end of September.
McGettigan suspects Correctional Services Canada’s decision is a move to save money as the federal government looks to build new prisons.
Correctional Services Canada will reportedly save $2.2 million by cutting CoSA funding. The federal department presently contributes $30,000 annually to Turnings through its chaplaincy division — a division that CoSA also falls under. McGettigan said that figure was at one point $18,000, but has grown over time.
As of Wednesday, McGettigan said Turnings had not confirmed whether the $30,000 amount would be renewed for the 2014-15 calendar year that begins in April. Turnings is also supported by the provincial departments of Justice and Health.
With the prison system’s institutional chaplaincy service now in the process of being privatized, McGettigan worries community chaplaincy may go down the same path.
“In the long run, obviously I think the community would lose, because there’s another community option that’s not there. Right now we’re at a loss, because we don’t have enough community options out there, frankly (for former inmates). When people come out of jail, there is some stuff, but not much — especially for the mentally ill.”
— With files from The Canadian Press