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Volunteers help reintegrate offenders in Canada
14 February 2005

Vancouver: At first glance, the public won't have much sympathy for civil libertarians who say sex offenders might suffer from "stress" if their release from prison is publicized.

Apparently, reintegrating into the community, getting a job and leading a normal life are made all the more difficult for sex offenders if we know about their release from prison. This inconvenient publicity might even lead them to reoffend.

According to Laura Huey, of the criminology department at Kwantlen College, "sex offending is linked to stress." She admits that violating an offender's privacy may be necessary to protect the public, but "this does not mean open season on sex offenders."

Luckily, a second look at the debate leads to more thoughtful suggestions to balance the public's safety interests and the privacy rights of released inmates.

Andrew McWhinnie works with the federal prison service's "Circles of Support and Accountability" (COSA), a program supporting released high-risk offenders. He says that more harm than good can come from publicizing the release of sex offenders if it is not done immediately upon their release.

Public warnings after an ex-con has begun reintegrating into society are "the very opposite of public safety."

It is through COSA, a volunteer group that helps inmates both reintegrate into society and assume responsibility for their actions, that McWhinnie is finding the practical success that, he says, doesn't come from public notifications alone.

The recidivism rate for sex offenders is 14 per cent over five years. A recent study shows a 50- to 60-per-cent rate reduction for COSA participants.

Perhaps a publicity campaign to recruit more COSA volunteers is as vital as prompt public warnings about society's most dangerous sex offenders.