This book explores how Circles of Support and Accountability can reduce sexual reoffending. The release of a notorious sex offender from prison strikes fear into members of the public. Media coverage often provokes further panic, casting such offenders as irredeemable monsters and ticking time bombs, destined to continue preying on innocent children and women. In the West, governments have responded by enacting heavily punitive and exclusionary policies, such as public sex offender registers, indefinite detention, and lifetime correctional supervision.
A radically different approach – Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) – emerged alongside these measures. CoSA are groups of trained volunteers who collectively resist the exclusionary impulse, instead actively supporting those with sexual offence convictions to reintegrate into communities. Despite their seemingly counterintuitive nature, the research is clear that CoSA reduce sexual reoffending far better than more popular draconian sex offender management policies. However, little is understood about how CoSA work.
This book begins to address this gap by proposing a new way of understanding how CoSA reduce sexual reoffending. Drawing on 65 in-depth interviews with CoSA participants, it offers a new theoretically-informed empirical explanation of CoSA’s capacity to promote desistance from sexual offending, and to turn those convicted of sexual offenders into law-abiding and productive members of the community. Ultimately it is a call to action, demonstrating that we, the community, must play a more central role in integrating people with sexual offence convictions if we desire safer communities for our children and our selves. This work illuminates new directions for research, policy, and practice, and is essential reading for academics and students engaged in the study of criminology and criminal justice, restorative justice, sexual violence, and reentry
Table of Contents
Prevalence and criminal justice response to child sexual abuse
Stigmatisation of people convicted of sexual offences
The emergence of Circles of Support and Accountability
Outline of the book
Chapter 1. Situating Circles of Support and Accountability
How do CoSA work?
Who volunteers in CoSA?
Do CoSA work?
Chapter 2. Theorising Circles of Support and Accountability
Existing theorisations of CoSA
The Risk, Needs, Responsivity model, the Good Lives Model, and CoSA
CoSA as restorative justice
CoSA as reintegrative shaming
CoSA as desistance-promotion
Chapter 3. Researching Circles of Support and Accountability
Participant sampling and recruitment
Making sense of the data
What was it like?
Chapter 4. A shot at redemption: Circles of Support and Accountability, desistance and redemption scripts
Redemption and condemnation scripts
Desistance and people who have sexually offended
Establishing a true, good self
Identifying a "bad It"
Incorporating a sense of "tragic optimism"
Developing a sense of optimistic control and self-efficacy
Chapter 5. Circles of Support and Accountability, the 110-percenters, and witnesses to identity transformation
Surpassing other core members’ desistance efforts
Ratting out other core members
The Judge Judy effect: Adopting hyper-conservative criminal justice values
If desistance occurs in the woods and there is no one there to see it…
Chapter 6. Giving back from a hopeless place: Circles of Support and Accountability and generativity
What is generativity?
Core members and the will-to-generativity
Paying it forward: From projectivity to generativity
Helping out a brother: Core members and reintegration advocacy
Generativity and managing the risky self
CoSA volunteers as the subjects of generativity
Chapter 7. Circles of Support and Accountability and core members as wounded healers
Wounded healers in the criminal justice context
Wounded healers and CoSA
‘Cheeseburgers are on Wednesday’: CoSA and wounded healers’ unique expertise
CoSA, wounded healers and identity transformation
Chapter 8. Implications for practice: Delivering Circles of Support and Accountability as desistance-promotion
The key arguments
Assisting desistance in practice
Implications for practice – Redemption scripts
Implications for practice – 110 percenters and witnesses to identity transformation
Implications for practice – Generativity
Implications for practice – Wounded healers
Limitations of the study
Future research directions
Victim/survivor and public views of CoSA
Kelly Richards holds a PhD in criminology from Western Sydney University. She is currently an Associate Professor in the School of Justice at Queensland University of Technology, where her research focuses primarily on those who perpetrate sexual violence. In 2010, she was awarded the ACT Government Office for Women Audrey Fagan Churchill Fellowship to investigate Circles of Support and Accountability in Canada, America and the United Kingdom. She was recently awarded a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award and will use this to further her research at California State University and the University of Vermont. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and Staghound X, and enjoys hiking, music and pub trivia.