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No Safety in Numbers A New Way to Treat Sex Offenders

Are registries the worst way to manage convicted sex offenders?

It’s a Monday evening in February, and four people sit around a conference table at a United Church of Christ in Fresno, California. The fluorescent lighting makes the room feel cold. But the people here have a warm demeanor and a seriousness of purpose. They’re part of a group called Circle of Support and Accountability (COSA), and they help manage recently released sex offenders.

The focus of the group’s work is “Jim,” a convicted offender in his 40s who’s near the end of his parole. Each member says a few words about how their week has been. Jim’s hasn’t gone so well—he’s felt lonely. He has a temp job and a 7 p.m. curfew, so after work every day, he goes home, eats dinner, and goes to bed. Even his brother doesn’t always want to talk to him. Warning flags go up for Clare Ann Ruth-Heffelbower, the program’s 63-year-old director, as Jim talks about how cut off he feels. “Do you think you’re going to do things that you know you shouldn’t do?” she asks.

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