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Community Justice Centers seek volunteers to connect with formerly incarcerated people

BRATTLEBORO—Vermont has an active network of restorative justice centers and relies on volunteers to support their programs working with people who have committed felonies and are returning to their communities.

Circle of Support and Accountability (COSA) programs can play a critical role in helping re-integrate people into the community after serving time in prison. Former prisoners who participate in a COSA program have a much lower rate of recidivism than those lacking supports. The individual benefits and the community does as well.

What is a COSA program? It “matches recently released people who have been convicted of a felony with community volunteers who meet weekly at our center for a year. The team offers support and suggestions to help the former prisoner, and these teams help individuals adapt to life on the outside in a healthy way, to build connections with community members,” Brattleboro Re-entry Coordinator Michelle Bos-Lun said in a news release

Bos-Lun said there is currently a waiting list, with four people wanting COSAs and more volunteers are to form those circles. Mike Malick, Re-entry Coordinator at the Greater Falls Community Justice Center said his center is in need of volunteers to support new circles as well.

“We welcome volunteers of all ages and backgrounds, but are especially seeking people of color, those from the LGBT+ community, and those in recovery from addictions and mental health challenges,” Bos-Lun said. “It is our hope that we can provide supportive teams to all who come to us, and having a more diverse volunteer force would enable us to provide those most effectively."

“I value being on a COSA team because it is an opportunity to connect with individuals in Brattleboro that I would not normally connect with and build community with,” said Grace Koch, who has served on a COSA team since September at the Brattleboro Community Justice Center.

There are two, two-day intensive required trainings being offered soon to prepare COSA team volunteers: Feb. 7 and 8 in Springfield and March 20 and 21 in Brattleboro. (5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday evening and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday).

Prospective volunteers also need to attend a 90 minute Department of Corrections training on Feb. 19 in Brattleboro at 4 p.m., or March 11 at 6:45 p.m. in Bellows Falls.

To learn more about joining a COSA team, or signing on to attend a training, contact Bos-Lun at michelle@brattleborocjc.org or 802-221-4107.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #545 (Wednesday, January 22, 2020). This story appeared on page A4.

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