Circles of Support and Accountability
Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) are a successful community initiative proven to reduce sexual offending. A Circle is a group of four volunteers from a local community who meet regularly with a person with a sexual conviction after release (known as the Core Member) to offer social, practical and emotional support, in addition to monitoring and supervision. The volunteers create the Circle of Support around the Core Member and offer, with supervision, social and practical support to the individual.
This restorative justice approach provides support to enable person with a sexual conviction to reintegrate back into society after serving time in prison, whilst still holding them accountable for their behavior. Circles are concerned with the needs of offenders and the needs of victims and communities. The concept seeks to balance both community protection from victimisation and the reintegration of individuals who are often socially isolated and marginalised.
Circles UK govern all CoSA projects across the UK and they state "Circles of Support and Accountability build safer communities through local volunteers working with people who have committed a sexual offence to minimise alienation, support reintegration and so prevent sexual reoffending".
“It’s not an easy ride for the released people who have committed a sexual offence, but at least Circles gives them some hope, and volunteers doing this in their spare time is remarkable. I salute them.” Lord Ian Blair
Do Circles work?
Circles provide a unique and supportive social network to counteract the isolation that can be such a dangerous factor in leading to further sexual offences. They encourage and enable offenders to develop appropriate social activities and share in the life of the community, allowing for successful and crime-free reintegration back into society.
Originally conceived in Canada, Circles were piloted by two projects in the UK between 2002 and 2010. Now, around 150 Circles are active at any one time utilising the skills and commitment of over 1000 volunteers, professionally recruited, trained and supervised.
Sexual and/or violent reoffending rates are reported to be 15% (Barnett et al., 2010). Through taking part in a Circle, this can be significantly reduced, with Circles proven to reduce sexual reoffending by 83% and both sexual and violent reoffending by approximately 70% (Wilson et al., 2009).
This reduction in reoffending also has a knock on effect, allowing for significant monetary savings within the Criminal Justice System (Elliott & Beech, 2012).