They say that it takes a village to raise a child, well according to one statewide initiative, this is also the case for successfully reintegrating someone into society after incarceration. Citizen Circles are groups of community stakeholders, formerly incarcerated individuals, and service organization members that are dedicated to collaborating to address returning citizens’ needs for successful reintegration.
Started in 2004 by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, Citizen Circles hope to address the behaviors and unmet needs that often lead to recidivism. According to DRC.ohio.gov , each citizen circle has 8 focus areas:
- “Employment – Work and the role of work in the person’s life, including education and vocational skills;
- Education – Education and vocational skills desired;
- Family/Marital – Being with family members and the support an offender derives from them;
- Associates/Social Interactions – Positive interaction with community members and non-criminal associates with the opportunity for positive interaction with peers;
- Substance Abuse – Living without reliance on alcohol and/or other drugs;
- Community Functioning – Knowledge and skills for daily living, including safety, an acceptable place to live, health, personal budgeting, leisure activities, and the use of social services;
- Personal/Emotional Orientation – Decision-making, coping with stress, and practicing mental health and wellness activities.
- Attitude – Supporting law-abiding behaviors and involvement with religious activities.”
The Citizen Circle model is based on a multi-national initiative called Circles of Support & Accountability or CoSA. According to The National Reentry Resource Center, CoSA’s origins ” can be traced back to both aboriginal Canadian traditions and to United States Native American traditions. When they wanted to solve a problem, everyone needed to sit in a circle, face each other as equals, and talk about it. It was, and is, a powerful example of people working together as a team. The first CoSA was implemented in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1994. This movement was started by Mennonite Pastor Harry Nigh, who befriended a mentally disabled sex offender who had served time in prison for sexual offenses throughout his lifetime. “
Citizen Circles hold regular meetings that individuals can voluntarily participate in. Typically at these meetings, returning citizens go through a brief private intake interview where they are asked about their current needs. Then when it is their turn, the returning citizen enters the circle where their needs are addressed individually. Many members of the circle are a part service providing organizations, so they can often meet needs directly and schedule a follow up, or they know of a resource to refer the individual to. These needs usually include things like bus passes, employment resources, and housing. The circle keeps track of the individual’s needs and progress so they can develop a plan together and continue to support them on their path to restoration.
There are Citizen Circles for nearly every county in Ohio, however based on our observations, this free and voluntary resource is often underutilized. relink.org gets many calls from returning citizens looking for help, and most of the time they have never heard of a Citizen Circle. We are always excited to share this information with them, but hope that this article provides another avenue to bring awareness about the Citizen Circle initiative.
If you would like to learn more about Citizen Circles, visit: https://drc.ohio.gov/citizen-circles.