Program Seeks to Rehabilitate Sex Offenders Canadians are looking to Alcoholics Anonymous as a guide for dealing with sex offenders. They've started a program to get volunteers from neighborhoods to sponsor the offenders.
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Program Seeks to Rehabilitate Sex Offenders

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Program Seeks to Rehabilitate Sex Offenders

Program Seeks to Rehabilitate Sex Offenders

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So that's what can happen to sex offenders living in Miami. Meanwhile, 2,800 miles or so northwest of Florida, sex offenders getting out of prison in Canada are getting a much warmer welcome.

Here's NPR's Martin Kaste.

MARTIN KASTE: Here's a case of Canadian believe it or not. Up in the great white north they have support groups for sex offenders. You heard right. They have volunteers who welcome sex offenders into the volunteer's own communities. This cheery little group meets once a week in suburban Vancouver.

Unidentified Man #1: Oh, Cheerios.

Unidentified Woman: Hey, we can have something to nibble on.

KASTE: This is what's called a circle of support and accountability. The center of this circle is a young sex offender. He just finished a four-year prison term for abducting and sexually assaulting two little girls. But tonight, the volunteers greet him with hearty handshakes.

Unidentified Man #2: (unintelligible)

Unidentified Man #3: I haven't seen you in about two weeks?

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah.

KASTE: NPR has agreed not to use his name because similar news stories have caused sex offenders in this program to lose their jobs and homes. He's in his late 20s, he wears a black ball cap with the Playboy logo and he can't wait for this meeting to start.

Unidentified Man #3: I have been waiting all week to share the news, actually. First of all, I got my own place.

(Soundbite of cheering)

KASTE: He's found a job too, in construction.

Unidentified Man #2: I'm getting back on my feet. The positive influence that have come my way since I've gotten out is - it's beyond words, it's unbelievable. And a large portion of it has to do with the circle.

KASTE: But this isn't just a happy support group. After celebrating the good news, volunteer Rick Gaisford(ph) gets serious and reminds the offender that no matter how comfortable he may feel in the community right now, he still has to follow certain ironclad rules, especially around children.

Mr. RICK GAISFORD (Volunteer): For instance, you're going into your place and the kids next door say, oh hi, you know. Just ignore them. You are a real polite guy, easy to get along with, but when kids are involved, you have to be that way.

Unidentified Man #2: Yes. I know that.

KASTE: This program was started 14 years ago by Mennonites in Ontario. Since then there have been circles for more than 200 high-risk sex offenders across Canada. Only about a half-dozen of them have ever re-offended. Despite the success rates, the volunteers often find themselves on the defensive. Maureen Donegan coordinates the program in this region.

Ms. MAUREEN DONEGAN (Program Coordinator, Fraser Valley CoSA): I've had people say to me, Maureen, don't even speak to me about those people. If I had my way, I'd shoot them. These are people I go sit in the same pews with at church.

KASTE: The tensions in the community often come out at the start, when a sex offender is first released. Volunteer Rick Gaisford.

Mr. GAISFORD: First day is very scary for a prisoner who's just released. They know they've been in the papers and on television and everybody - you know, they think everybody is looking for them, and you are basically hiding.

KASTE: The circle sometimes goes so far as to sneak an offender into a motel for his first night to keep him out of public view. This is infuriating for people who want to know where the sex offenders live, such as Chris Danielsen, founder of a local organization called Put Kids First.

Ms. CHRIS DANIELSEN (Founder, Put Kids First): To me it is unbelievable because, you know, I said the other day when a bear comes into town or a cougar, we shoot it right away because we know it's a danger to us. But yet we're putting other predators into the neighborhood and we're sealing their identity.

KASTE: Canadian police can publicize the presence of a sex offender in a given city. But they can't give out his address or workplace. The circles do what they can to keep those details quiet to keep him from being chased out of the community. And most experts say that they're right to do so. David D'Amora is the director of the Center for the Treatment of Problem Sexual Behavior in Connecticut.

Mr. DAVID D'AMORA (Center for the Treatment of Problem Sexual Behavior): They are doing something that is way more scientifically based than probably 90 percent of our current policy is in the United States.

KASTE: The circle's program has been noticed in the U.S. A spin-off version has started in Denver, and some others may soon start up in Vermont and California.

Martin Kaste, NPR News.

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