Circles of Support & Accountability: Consideration of the Feasibility of Pilots in Scotland

Published: February 2009

Circles of Support and Accountability (‘COSA’ or ‘Circles’) have been running now for seven years in England and for nearly twice that amount of time in Canada.  Almost since the first Circles were piloted in England there has been interest in and debate about introducing them to Scotland. Formal proposals to initiate a pilot were rejected by the Scottish Government, partly on the grounds that it would be beneficial to await outcomes of the experience of the pilots in England as well as see through implementation in Scotland of major policy and practice changes affecting the management of sex offenders. Regardless of timing, funding for criminal justice activities is finite and constantly under pressure from competing demands for services. The implementation of Circles pilots thus requires consideration of whether this kind of approach – namely, volunteers]based support and monitoring of high risk sex offenders in the community – would address an identified and important gap in existing services or contribute to ‘best practice’ in this field.

This report reviews the implementation experience of Circles in areas where they have and have not become established features of high risk offender management.  It identifies the distinctive features of Scottish criminal justice policy and practice that might affect implementation of pilots in Scotland, considers the implications of volunteers working with sex offenders, assesses the evidence of effectiveness of Circles so far and sets out the relevant feasibility issues should a decision be taken to proceed with Circles in Scotland.


Authors / Editors

Prof Sarah Armstrong

University of Glasgow

Prof Simon Mackenzie

Victoria University of Wellington

Prof Margaret Malloch

University of Stirling

Research Themes

Criminal Justice Process and Institutions