BARRE — Dalia Entrekin is not jailhouse material. She’s never late to work, she maintains a budget, keeps to a schedule and cares for three children.
That might not sound like a lot, but for Entrekin, it’s remarkable.
She is a convicted felon and former drug addict with a history mired by abuse and the absence of positive role models.
But Entrekin, 34, is tired of where poor choices have led her. She is ready to move on.
That’s why she’s the center of a Circle of Support and Accountability, or COSA team, a program run by the Greater Barre Community Justice Center.
The COSA program is one of several at the center, whose goal is address conflict and crime by encouraging offenders, victims and others to talk to each other and put things right.
The COSA program, which last year was studied by University of Vermont sociologists, has been successful in Canada.
In Canada, the COSA program reported as much as a 70 percent reduction in re-offense among high-risk sexual offenders.
Since 2006, Vermont has run close to 100 COSAs, funded by a variety of sources. Of the 21 COSA teams studied by UVM, only one team received a charge for a new crime during the time period of the study — 2010 to 2013.
The program is designed to fill a gap between programs run inside prison and community supervision by probation and parole officers. Often offenders lack support from family or friends, have an “institutionalized” sense of self from living in confinement, and lack relationship and life skills.
Entrekin meets weekly with her team members, a group of three women. They talk about getting a job, paying rent, relationships and making new friends. Each member updates others about their week.
“It’s about reciprocity, it’s about learning that everybody has issues and everybody is able to resolve or not resolve their issues,” said Lori Baker, the justice center’s executive director.
Washington County State’s Attorney Thomas Kelly’s office utilizes the community justice center about 10 times a month, sometimes referring alleged offenders there instead of charging them with a crime. Police also send people there rather than filing charges against them.
The Legislature this year passed a bill encouraging prosecutors to set up more alternative justice programs throughout the state.
“It’s an opportunity for an offender to make amends, the victim gets a chance to meet with the offender and I think when people communicate that it can generate some understanding,” Kelly said.
Entrekin came to the center through prison, where she was serving time for marijuana possession, perjury and check fraud. She has been out of prison 31 weeks, meeting with the team weekly.
“They’re definitely here for me and I know that,” she said.
Entrekin has come a long way from her birthplace of Atlantic City, N.J., literally and figuratively. Her mother was a drug addict who brought unsafe people to their home. Entrekin dropped out of high dropped out of high school when she was 15.
She landed in Burlington when her van broke down during a road trip, but never kept a steady job and started abusing drugs.
Now she works the overnight shift at the Quality Inn, she’s getting her high school diploma and goes daily to the BAART clinic for a daily dose of buprenorphine. She wants to be an electrician, because she likes to tinker. There’s not a lot of women in the profession and it pays well.
“I try not to make poor choices today because I never want to go back to that hell hole,” she said about prison.
The thought of not being able to see her kids, ages 14, 9 and 2, keeps her going.
Entrekin, who is still on community supervision by the Department of Corrections, hasn’t slipped up. Other COSA members sometimes end up back in jail, but their teams continue to meet with them.
Volunteer Lynda Murphy, a member of Entrekin’s team, knows people don’t change overnight. Often it’s one step forward, three back.
“You gotta think of it as small steps,” Murphy said.
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