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From the Prison of Stereotype to the Freedom of Relationship: Welcoming the Otherwise Despised in a Circle of Support and Accountability Open Access


Other title
sex offenders
Circles of Support and Accountability
prisoner reintegration
Type of item
Degree grantor
St. Stephen's College
Author or creator
Melanie Jeanne Weaver
Supervisor and department
Dr. Shelly Bernard
Examining committee member and department
Dr. Roger Ball
Dr. Don Stoesz
Dr. Tara Milbrandt
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Ministry
Degree level
Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) is a community-based program designed to help people who have offended sexually during their process of reintegration after their release from prison. Former offenders with CoSA Circles have achieved significantly lower recidivism rates than those without circles. What is it about the CoSA phenomenon that makes the difference? Statistical studies confirm the favorable outcomes brought about by CoSA; a qualitative approach can help to explain how and why it works. This qualitative, hermeneutical-phenomenological research project explored the lived experience of CoSA volunteers in an effort to understand the nature of the relationship that forms between them and their core member. It began with an investigation of the context in which CoSA operates, including a description of the CoSA structure itself and the two main public approaches to crime—retributive and restorative. The researcher's context was also summarized for the purpose of epoché. A theoretical background was presented that incorporated mimetic theory, first proposed by René Girard, and existing literature about sexual offenders, the community, and CoSA volunteers. Research was conducted from a social constructivist point of view in the form of in-depth interviews with fifteen CoSA volunteers and one prospective volunteer. The research question was rooted in the notion that the CoSA relationship had previously been likened to a friendship, asking specifically how friendship was experienced. Results revealed that friendship was indeed experienced by some participants but not by all. More decisively, it was revealed that a combination of four elements proved to be both unique and essential to the CoSA relationship as it contributes to the successful reintegration of the core members: the suspension of stereotype, the solidly intentional approach to establishing the nature of the relationship, emotional investment, and ample opportunity for social interaction outside the formal structure of the circle. In conclusion, the research has contributed profoundly to the understanding of the nature of the CoSA journey, and affirmed both the responsibility and the positive role of local community members in enhancing public safety through the practice of restorative justice.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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