Assessing the Impact of Circles of Support and Accountability

Sexual offending is a serious and uniquely invasive form of offending. When the victims are children the violation is even more harmful. How can we as a society engage with sex offenders when they re-enter a community, and simultaneously enhance the levels of public protection to that community?

Circles of Support and Accountability (Circles or CoSA) is a community-based initiative working across England and Wales that addresses these issues since 2002.  In Circles volunteers work with medium and high risk sex offenders returning into their communities and are supervised by a professional Coordinator.

A team from the University of Leeds, Leeds Metropolitan University and the University of Nottingham including Professors Susanne Karstedt, Terry Thomas, and Birgit Völlm, and Researcher David Thompson conducted an in-depth study of CoSA and Circles UK across the country to assess the extent to which Circles Projects contribute towards a safe reintegration of adult sex offenders into the community.

Research Findings

The research demonstrates that Circles of Support and Accountability can break vicious cycles of isolation and stigmatization that sex offenders experience on their re-entry into communities. Volunteers provide support, but they also instil a sense of being held accountable and controlled.

The study shows that Circles of Support and Accountability are well received within the criminal justice system and have established a reputation for themselves as reliable partners. With professional support and oversight indispensable for volunteers working with difficult groups of offenders, Circles UK as the national organisation has established model practices and projects in achieving this.


A conference was held in Leeds on 19 June 2014 - Sex Offenders in the Community: Assessing Circles of Support and Accountability

Day One, Session One: Assessing Circles UK: The Challenges

Birgit Vollm: Circles: Sounds good but does it work?

Jorgen Lovbakke: Measuring CoSA outcomes - Challenges and alternatives to reoffending as outcome measure

Martin Clarke: An overview of Core Members: data from Circles UK

Day One Session Two: Experiences of Circles: A Qualitative Analysis

David Thompson: Overcoming Isolation and Stigma: How Core Members see CoSA

Kieran McCartanCore Members experiences of Circles - A Qualitative Analysis

Day One, Keynote Lecture

Don Grubin: The contribution of polygraph testing to the risk reduction package

Day Two, Session One

Terry Thomas and David Thompson: Through the Looking Glass: Volunteers Experiences of Working in CoSA

Day Two, Session Two

Terry Thomas: What Stakeholders Think

Day Two, Keynote Lecture

Mary Corcoran: Between Trust and Risk: Volunteering in Criminal Justice