The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) recently presented findings from reviews of two Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) which is a community based initiative aimed to prevent further offending by convicted offenders. These are called core members within the circles.
It’s a volunteer led initiative, though not cost free, and currently, although recidivism was considered as a measurement of effectiveness where no long term independent evaluations of the value of CoSA. CoSA in the UK was set up by the Religious Society of Friends based on projects running in Canada for many years before that. Its methodology is to provide four-six local volunteers to support individual offenders recently released from custody and subject to statutory supervision on licence. They regularly meet with the core member, looking to provide social or practical support to reduce the risk of social isolation and, where possible, to monitor their actions and behaviour to reduce the risk of re-offending.
They work with local Multi-Agency Public Protection Panels and other relevant agencies, making (hence the title) two concentric circles of support. In order for offenders to participate they must have demonstrated some understanding of their behaviour and be committed to developing an offence free lifestyle.
In 2012 there were approximately 600 volunteers throughout England and Wales.
Again quoting from the Ministry of Justice Analytical Summary, the only British outcome evaluation that has observed recidivism of participant of CoSA (Bates et al, 2013) looked at 71 sexual offenders who participated in South East England with a comparison group who were referred to CoSA but did not join. The comparison group was matched on risk status. In a follow up period of 55 months there was a 4.2% sexual re-conviction rate amongst CoSA participants in comparison to a 16.9% re-conviction rate of the non CoSA group.
– There were obviously some more subtle issues in making exact comparisons, but still it seemed to have some success.
The two organisations studied were the Lucy Faithful Foundation and a circle managed by Hampshire and Thames Valley.
Overall, this initiative has been running for some time and does seem to have a part to play in preventing re-offending. Nothing can excuse offences against children, but we have a societal responsibility to back up all legal measures in conjunction with exclusion orders and any other practical way of physically preventing contact between offenders and children with measures that encourage self control and behaviour modification as well.
It’s one of these crimes where, unless you lock up offenders for life, we have to accept a combined preventative measure of state control and self control. I’d be very interested to see what further research brings and interview the Lucy Faithful Foundation who have a long track record in the field.