Circles of Support and Accountability: Criminal Justice volunteers as the ‘Deliberative Public’

Published 15/03/2015
Type Article
Author(s) Paul Almond, Andrew Bates, Chris Wilson
Corresponding Authors Paul Almond, Professor of Law, University of Reading, Andrew Bates, Forensic Psychologist, Thames Valley Probation Chris Wilson, National Development Manager, Circles UK

This paper provides a review of the role played by volunteers within one particular offender management and reintegration scheme in the United Kingdom. Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) draw on the expertise of volunteer members of the public to create supportive monitoring frameworks around sex offenders following their release from prison. The paper presents evidence as to the motivations of these volunteers, and argues that they play a crucial role in the success of the scheme, as they provide an instrumentally-useful form of reintegrative social contact to a socially-excluded offender population, and perform a symbolically important role as representatives of the wider community in taking ownership of offender management practices on behalf of the wider society. This is particularly significant in grounding those processes in the communicative practices of the social sphere, providing powerful reasons for intervention that reinforce the work that COSA do.

The last thirty years has witnessed a ‘managerial revolution’ in probationary and rehabilitative practices (McLaughlin, Muncie & Hughes, 2001). This has placed an increasing emphasis upon preventative and adaptive responses to offending risks, the integration of market-oriented dynamics into penal services, and the use of actuarial rationalities to organise the pursuit of institutional performance targets (Bottoms, 1995; Garland, 2001; McCulloch & McNeill, 2007; Simon, 2007). The pursuit of efficient risk management, and the audit of performance in relation to this goal, has become a new orthodoxy, albeit one that has given rise to a number of tensions, particularly over how it interacts with the professional skills that inform probation work (Ashworth, 2009; Burke & Collett, 2010; Canton, 2007; Newman & Nutley, 2003; Raine & Wilson, 2007). There are particular concerns that the application of the language of risk and probability, and the processes of targeting that accompany it, to the offender management context (Feeley & Simon, 1994; Loader, 1996) has the potential to reduce the participants in probation to the status of targets for intervention, thereby obscuring their agency, and to replace practitioner expertise with systematised models of offender management (Canton, 2007; Newman & Nutley, 2003; Raine & Wilson, 2007).

The issue is not necessarily that performance-monitoring is illegitimate within publicly-accountable criminal justice organisations; rather, its centrality means that those organisations can become preoccupied with bureaucratic and strategic considerations to the exclusion of the human-centred value orientation that should inform their work (Dzur & Mirchandani, 2007; Hudson, 2003; Loader, 1996; Weaver, 2009). This line of argument draws on the Habermasian notion of juridification, or the colonization of the ‘lifeworld’, in order to explain why instrumental rationality can have detrimental consequences for the criminal justice system. For Habermas, actions taken by public bodies derive their legitimacy, or claims as to rightness, from their connection to the shared moral values of the democratic public sphere (Habermas, 1987; 1988). Policies that lack this connection are unable to legitimate themselves by establishing reasons for their existence.

As public policy is placed in the hands of bureaucrats and market forces, and reduced to a series of technical questions for experts (Loader, 1996:33), it is distanced from the public sphere. At the same time, participants within probationary systems become passive, demoralised, and alienated, viewing their own progress as a matter of meeting targets rather than of self-development (Habermas, 1988; Weaver, 2009). It appears that the prevailing public sentiments expressed in many jurisdictions tend to be punitive and oriented towards the endorsement of harsh criminal justice policies (Bottoms, 1995; Garland, 2001; Roberts & Hough, 2005; Simon, 2007), and attitudes towards community-based offender management are characterised by scepticism and a lack of understanding (Allen & Hough, 2007; Maruna & King, 2008; Roberts & Hough, 2005). While there is considerable evidence to suggest that public attitudes are not always as negative as this (Green, 2006; Hough, 1996; Hutton, 2005), the dominant discourses around community-based criminal justice remain broadly negative. This leads to a perception that these programmes are illegitimate when compared to retributive or incapacitative measures, and so ‘tough on crime’ agendas endure and coexist uncomfortably alongside an increased professional recognition of the value of restorative approaches (Garland, 2001; Maruna & King, 2008; McNeill, 2009).

Sex Offender Management and the Deliberative Public
This paper recounts a study of citizen volunteers working within the field of sex offender resettlement, and their potential value as mediators of public hostility towards practices of this sort. Interrogating the reasons why members of the public get involved with sex offender management programmes, and what the implications of this involvement might be, is important because the public mistrust set out above is much more pronounced in this context than elsewhere (Brown et al., 2008; McNeill, 2009; Wilson et al., 2007). Efforts to treat and resettle sex offenders run contrary to the dominant media-led sensibilities of a society which is highly anxious about the risks these offenders pose and which distances itself from engagement with them via a profoundly exclusionary social narrative (Gavin, 2005). Ironically, by marginalising those convicted of sexual offences, this exclusionary narrative makes it much less likely that reoffending risks will be managed successfully (Brown et al., 2008; McNeill, 2009). Public policymaking has tended to reflect this dominant narrative of risk and exclusion to the detriment of the services in question.

It may be suggested that there is a need for the wider public to “own up to” practices in this area in a way they rarely do, engaging more fully in debates about sex offender policy. Deliberation of this sort “connect[s]…policy more sensitively to what the public perceives as important, and allows the deliberative consideration of multiple values underlying the practice of punishment” (Dzur & Mirchandani, 2007:160), particularly important in an area such as this where ‘public opinion’ and ‘true public attitudes’ may diverge considerably (Green, 2006). Greater engagement makes public attitudes more informed, less punitive, less open to distortion by the media, and more oriented towards restorative and rehabilitative goals (Hutton, 2005). Engagement of this sort also ensures that criminal justice practices have a secure legitimatory basis; there is a degree of community accountability which ensures that the reasons for action taken in the public interest are clear (Dzur & Mirchandani, 2007; Weaver, 2009). Resettlement and rehabilitation are validated as legitimate goals of the criminal justice system because they are grounded in public dialogue.

Volunteer involvement in the management of sex offenders within the community is a powerful example of this kind of citizen engagement. Approaches that focus on reintegration into the community emphasise the need for meaningful contact between offender and public as an element of desistance-building (Bottoms, 2008; Farrall & Calverley, 2006; McNeill & Whyte, 2007). Having direct contact with members of the community, and being involved in practices that promote integration, builds the social capital needed to facilitate resettlement. Insofar as desistance is a process of re-entry into the community, the relationships built through mentoring or supervision frameworks can provide the sort of community-based rituals necessary for reintegration (Farrall & Calverley, 2006; Maruna, 2011). Making and maintaining acquaintances, discussing experiences and thoughts with other people, and becoming more skilled at social interaction, are all elements of offender-public relationships that have significant reintegrative value. Voluntary interactions in the area of offender resettlement were thus recently recognised at governmental level as a powerful tool of personal and social change (Neuberger, 2009).

Volunteers within the criminal justice system are proxy representatives of the wider community and, because they have made a moral choice to freely give their time, occupy a particular motivational space; their input is given as a genuine social good, and is thus immune to the kind of instrumental pressures that afflict other elements of the criminal justice system. By virtue of being at least partly altruistic in nature, the contribution made by volunteers inclines towards being rational and informed, open and inclusive, and ongoing, the values defined by Habermas (1987) as the qualifying requirements of genuine communicative action. By investigating the motivations that underpin volunteer engagement in one sex offender resettlement programme which has the potential to be truly deliberative in nature (Circles of Support and Accountability, or COSA), and providing more narrative detail about who engages and why, we can thus gaining a better understanding of the wider role that volunteer involvement is capable of playing in legitimating and grounding such programmes in a more developed sense of the public interest.

Circles of Support and Accountability
Within COSA, members of the public take the role of ‘circle volunteers’, coalescing around a ‘Core Member’ (a sex offender who has normally completed a custodial sentence) and providing personal and social support to the offender, as well as a framework for accountability. The role of the COSA is to develop interpersonal contact between the core member and the wider community in order to generate the kind of social capital that militates against future offending; core members openly discuss their behaviours and thoughts with the circle volunteers, and are answerable to them for any deviations from their own aspirations to live non-offending lives. The fact that COSAs involve volunteers means that a trusting dialogue is constructed, and allows for a range of benefits to be accrued to all parties involved, including the community-at-large (by engaging its members with marginalised offenders: Wilson et al., 2007). The volunteers of a Circle, who usually number four or five, are trained to counter the isolation known to be a precursor to sexual reoffending, and are supported by a professional coordinator who facilitates risk management and the sharing of appropriate information with statutory agencies. In this way, the provision of a social support network facilitates a meaningful accountability framework.

COSA were first introduced to England in 2001 by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and in 2002 were developed via two government-funded three year pilot projects: Circles South East (formally Thames Valley/Hampshire), and the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, a third-sector child protection charity. Such was the success of the pilot projects that many of the newly instigated UK Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) requested the implementation of COSA in their particular area. While most MAPPA-generated risk management plans for sexual and violent offenders tend to be reactive and centre on restrictive methods of control such as sex offender registration, prevention orders and community notification (Brown et al., 2008; McNeill, 2009), COSA’s inclusion within MAPPA risk management systems placed a contrasting emphasis on the possibility of constructive reintegration into the community. COSA’s initial success in this role resulted in a speedy growth of local Circle projects across the country, and this led to the establishment in 2007 of Circles UK, a charity responsible for supporting new COSA development and ensuring consistent compliance with national Codes of Practice.

The Probation Service has a long history of using volunteers to help rehabilitate offenders and enhance public safety. The Victorian-era foundations of the Service lay in the volunteering work of the Church of England Temperance Society, whose objective was to “reclaim drunkards” (Nellis, 2007) and who, along with the London Police Courts Mission (LPCM), developed the use of Court-appointed missionaries to divert offenders from custody. The Home Office and the Howard League for Penal Reform pushed for the secularisation of this system as the “missionaries were often not well educated and their temperance orientation…overshadowed proper probation work” (Nellis, 2007), and the Probation of Offenders Act 1907 retitled the LPCM’s missionaries as ‘Probation Officers’ and gave them official status as ‘Officers of the Court’. Subsequent to this, the Criminal Justice Act 1948 reaffirmed the Probation Service’s status as a social work agency that existed to “advise, assist and befriend”, in part via the engagement of local community volunteers. This model endured until the 1980s, when the Conservative government challenged the ‘social work’ nature of probation and focused instead on notions of enforcement and public protection (Nellis, 2001:25-7), removing the Home Office sponsorship of Probation places on Social Work courses and introducing National Vocational Qualifications for Trainee Probation Staff (Skinner & Goldhill, 2013:42). Subsequently the 1990s saw the encroachment of a public-sector ‘target culture’, with measurements and thresholds set for compliance, breach, completion of supervision and community sentences (Nellis, 2001:33; Raine & Wilson, 1997), all of which seemed to confirm the Habermasian notion of a shift towards instrumental rationality, juridification, and instrumentalism, and away from deliberative input (Ashworth, 2009).

But recent years have seen something of a shift back towards volunteering in this area. The National Offender Management Service (NOMS), the central administrative department located within the Ministry of Justice which facilitates the end–to-end management of offenders, acknowledged the role of volunteering in the Criminal Justice system: “It was estimated in 2003 that six thousand volunteers were involved in prisons in England and Wales through faith based organisations alone…Volunteering therefore provides an opportunity for communities to help reduce re-offending” (NOMS, 2007:5). By this time, COSA had been operating successfully for five years and was cited as an example of what could be achieved through strong partnership arrangements between the voluntary sector and statutory agencies. This was a distinct change of policy direction because, prior to 2001, the Government believed it to be generally unsafe to use volunteers in work with sex offenders because of the high levels of manipulation and denial associated with this group of offenders. Whether or not the 2010 Coalition government’s concept of the ‘Big Society’ has had any subsequent bearing on such a distinct change of policy is unclear, but it appears that COSA has played a role in reinforcing the theoretical and practical benefits that volunteers provide in the criminal justice context, and returning probationary practices to their historical, volunteer-oriented form.

That said, all voluntary and charitable organisations operating within the criminal justice system face new uncertainties under the ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ agenda of 2013-14 (Ministry of Justice, 2013). This agenda holds that the private, charitable, and voluntary sectors can, via Community Rehabilitation Companies, provide rehabilitative and supervisory services for medium to low risk offenders, while the newly created National Probation Service manages all high risk offenders subject to MAPPA (a problematic distinction because risk is dynamic and changeable: McNeill, 2013). While many voluntary and charitable organisations depend on receiving contracts from Community Rehabilitation Companies, COSA will work mainly with the National Probation Service and its partner agencies, and may be able to attract into volunteering those who may resist doing so for charities contracted by for-profit organisations; a previous study found that COSA volunteers “prefer working for charities rather than the private sector, if unpaid” (Thomas et al., 2014). This context thus raises important questions, which this paper’s study of volunteer motivations aims to help answer: what are the potential benefits of the recent shift back towards volunteer involvement in sex offender rehabilitation? What motivates volunteering in this area, and how do these motivations map onto the new landscape of offender rehabilitation? Who are the volunteers who are increasingly going to populate the criminal justice system in the coming years?

Circle Volunteers: Background and Issues
COSA volunteering is an emotionally and psychologically demanding role, and requires professional supervision and support. Central among these demands is the need to engage with the Core Member and build a participatory, mutual relationship of trust so that trigger factors, high-risk situations, and coping strategies can be discussed. The volunteer’s role provides a good example of the kind of public “ownership-taking” role envisaged by advocates of deliberative criminal justice practices (Dzur & Mirchandani, 2007), in that it centres on a relationship of mutual openness, but also involves a commitment to accountability in the interests of community protection. This tension between support and accountability was evidenced in the first COSA evaluation in England and Wales (Bates et al., 2007), which examined 16 Circles across four years (2002-6), and found that while no Core Member had been reconvicted for any criminal offence, 9 of 16 did display a significant amount of problematic behavioural activity. Four Core Members were returned to prison, and one subjected to a Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO), following the sharing of information about behaviour replicating previous offence patterns with the public protection agencies (fulfilling the accountability and community protection aspects of COSA).

In four of these cases, volunteers continued to engage with their Core Member after their recall to prison, and in three, the Core Member re-engaged with their Circle post-release. These double-edged, but enduring, relationships thus seem to illustrate the openness (mutuality), rationality (truth-telling), and ongoing nature required to constitute a form of communicative action (Habermas, 1987). The value of such deliberative approaches is also illustrated by their effectiveness. An evaluation of the first 10 years of practice of Circles South-East (CSE) (Bates et al., 2014) found that the 71 Core Members studied were reconvicted for violent and contact sexual offences over a 4.5 year follow-up period at a lower rate than members of a broadly matched comparison group of 71 sex offenders who had been referred to CSE but not received a Circle. It appears that mechanisms which involve deliberative engagement of this sort generate the kind of preventative and positively empowering effects that are sought.

While other evaluations of CSE (Bates et al., 2007; 2011) have confirmed the positive behavioural outcomes for Core Members, the volunteering element, which distinguishes COSA from other community-based forms of sex offender management, has not been explored. The current study redresses this imbalance by presenting information gathered from CSE Circles on the 160 volunteers who have worked with them from inception in 2002 until 2012. CSE initially drew its volunteer base from three main groups: allied professionals working in hostels, housing departments, and with the homeless; postgraduate students of psychology, criminology, and social work; and volunteers motivated by faith, particularly Quakers (whose Church brought the concept of Circles to the UK) and Methodists (who adopted COSA principles in 2000). The allied professionals brought experience of working with sexual offenders, and could benefit from COSA volunteering as a professional development activity (a National Vocational Qualification can now be obtained via COSA volunteering), while the students helped diversify the demographics of the volunteer pool. Active recruitment was soon superseded by the flow of unsolicited volunteering enquiries, perhaps due to a growing culture of volunteering and to the internet’s capacity to bring volunteers and charities together.

118 of the 160 CSE volunteers were female (73.75%), and while there is a wide range of ages in CSE volunteers, from the oldest born in 1930 to the youngest who was born in 1991 (the lower age limit for CSE volunteers is 21), there is a clear peak in the number of volunteers aged 22-26 at the time of the study (born 1986-1990). Figure 1 shows the years of birth (grouped into 5 year periods across the x axis) of all CSE volunteers (n=160).

Figure 1:

This peak group were mainly students at the time of their volunteering. The number of students volunteering for criminal justice work has increased in recent years as changes in the costs of higher education and the contraction of the graduate job market have placed an additional value upon relevant professional experience that can provide a pathway into a career and so allow for the repayment of student loans (Hustinx et al., 2010; Wilkins et al., 2013). The typical gender distribution found on many relevant and increasingly popular degree programmes (in subjects like psychology) also helps account for the preponderance of female volunteers documented above. While these contextual factors, as well as the use of the internet to publicise volunteer opportunities, have populated the COSA pool with web-literate, enthusiastic, and academically able volunteers, it must be noted that there has also been a decline over time in the number of more experienced, older people who are involved in bringing their practical life experience to bear within COSA.

Figure 2 shows the occupation of CSE volunteers, broken down into basic groupings; the largest category are students (primarily, where specified, of psychology and criminology). ‘Caring professions’ include those who work in health or social services settings outside of the criminal justice system. Retired volunteers are recorded according to their previous working background, if known, and as ‘retired’ if not.

Figure 2:

The rich diversity found among CSE volunteers is illustrated by the wide range of occupations which make up the ‘other’ category (20.6% of the total). It includes clerical and professional roles such as business analyst, oil industry executive, company director, accountant, banker, and IT consultant, as well as chemist, warehouse worker, builder, farmer, hairdresser, photographer, funeral director, engineer, and radiographer. A COSA is not a formal, manualised intervention; rather, a group of people combine to provide support and accountability to an individual who has sexually offended in the past in order to reduce their future offending risk. This allows each volunteer to bring a wealth of life experience which they can apply to the objectives of COSA, and in doing so, enhance the value of the process.

But why do these volunteers get involved, and what do they gain from doing so? Again, it appears that the diversity of volunteer backgrounds and the uniqueness of each COSA experience mean that it is not possible to universalise, but certain key motivators for the significant undertaking and commitment involved can be identified. When applying to work with CSE, volunteers are asked to state their motivations to volunteer according to seven different categories: religious beliefs which prompt volunteering; support of the humane principles upon which COSA is based; professional interest arising from current or intended employment; personal experience as a survivor of sexual abuse; child protection principles; a desire to create safer communities; and a personal interest in social/criminal justice issues. Figure 3 shows the number of times each category was endorsed. Each motivation is not exclusive and some volunteers record more than one motivation; professional (87) and personal (40) interests featured highly in the responses, as did a personal commitment to humanist principles (80) and to building safer communities (72).

Figure 3:

As part of the CSE 10-year follow-up study (Bates et al., 2014), 160 volunteers were also sent a questionnaire asking what inspired them to become a volunteer for CSE, what benefits they think CSE has for Core Members, and why they continue to volunteer for CSE. 40 questionnaires (25%) were returned for analysis, perhaps reflecting the multiple demands upon the time of CSE volunteers, who may not prioritise filling in questionnaires within this time. 19 volunteers referred to a desire to bring about the cessation of sexual offending as their primary motivation, with nine linking this to the constructive input they felt they could have, and nine to the increased self-esteem they felt offenders could gain. 21 of 40 volunteers referenced their own skills and background as a reason for volunteering, reflecting the three groups of ‘targeted’ volunteers mentioned previously: nine were seeking relevant professional experience in the criminal justice field as they had ambitions to work in this area; eight were motivated by the relevance of Circles to their own professional expertise; and four referenced faith-based (specifically Quaker) motivations for working with CSE. Seven were motivated by the needs of Core Members, including their belief in supporting offenders’ capacity for change (two) and need to have a meaningful stake in society (four). Other volunteers cited a desire to do something to counteract media hysteria around the issue of sexual offending (three), and one was motivated by being a survivor of sexual abuse. Finally, the special importance of volunteering was cited by five participants who emphasised the non-coercive nature and credibility of unpaid, non-professional input (two), and the training benefits that volunteers could obtain as a result of their involvement (three).

This article has examined one distinguishing feature of COSA, namely the fact that their work is carried out by volunteer members of the public. These volunteers draw on a range of motivations for their involvement in Circles, but particularly emphasise the desire to build safer communities through their actions, and a moral interest in improving the way that sexual offenders are treated. Two immediate observations can be made about these expressed motivations. Firstly, although this is a self-selecting sample of the ‘general public’, the diversity of the volunteer sample and the motivations expressed provide evidence of wider social attitudes that run counter to the prevailing media-led hostility towards sex offenders. Volunteers were able to look beyond any tendencies towards vilification and mistrust, and engage positively with offenders as human beings; their willingness to undertake this compassionate engagement demonstrates that true ‘public attitudes’ are more nuanced and less uniformly hostile than might be thought. This suggests that efforts at deliberative policymaking that might seek to mirror and reflect these impulses may represent a more authentically deliberative version of public policy in this area (Dzur & Mirchandani, 2007; Hutton, 2005; Weaver, 2009).

Secondly, a recurring component of the motivations expressed is the value of the voluntary element of citizen engagement; volunteers clearly saw the fact that their input was given freely as a form of public good as essential in underpinning much of the value that was produced. This places COSA volunteering in a unique place within the post-‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ landscape. Core members are able to build relationships of trust more easily, and avoid destroying them by reoffending, because those relationships are genuine not strategic and so have a motivational value that professional relationships can aspire to, but not easily reproduce. Much anecdotal evidence exists from Core Members to support this importance attached to the voluntariness of the relationship as a community-based reintegration ritual (Farrall & Calverley, 2006; Maruna, 2011). But it must be recognised that not all volunteers join Circles purely because of their high-minded moral commitments. Many get personal benefit from the role (in terms of satisfaction or career progression), and are therefore acting strategically and instrumentally.

This mixture of motives, with some focused on personal interests and others which relate to broader normative stances on the issue of offender rehabilitation, clearly reflects the pragmatic nature of individual reasoning, but also arguably obscures the meanings that can attach to those actions. Habermas’ normative theory, if strictly interpreted, would imply that actions undertaken on the basis of instrumental rationality are not capable of underpinning legitimate social action because they represent the satisfaction of particular and not universal social interests (Habermas, 1987). This might thus imply that Circles volunteering cannot be seen as generating any wider social meaning as a mechanism of community ownership of offender rehabilitation. But this is a misleading objection to make as recognising that the benefits of volunteering cut both ways does not distract from the non-obligatory (as opposed to externally mandated) basis of that interaction. Recognising one’s own interests simply underlines the rational, informed nature of the undertaking, and the accompanying diversification of the volunteer base emphasises the openness and inclusivity of the process. Lastly, of course, volunteers do undertake to be engaged with their Circle (and are) for a sustained period of time. As a result, all of the defining features of communicative action according to Habermas (1987) are demonstrated by COSA, suggesting that this model is capable of underpinning a radically different public approach to this issue.

The particular normative value of COSA volunteering can be best understood in relation to the expressed reasons for volunteering that were put forward by COSA volunteers. The emphasis placed upon humanist values, including the recognition of the agency and value of convicted sex offenders and their capacity to change (even those convicted of very serious and heinous crimes), and the desire of volunteers to act for the collective benefit of the community, both illustrate the links between COSA volunteering and a broadly democratic and inclusive approach to issues of offender resettlement. Core members are participants in, not subjects of, the processes of reform involved (Weaver 2009), and volunteers engage with them on behalf of the community, rather than purely in their own interest. Even those whose motivations were pragmatic and linked to their own career framed their involvement in terms of the value they could give, not just the benefits they could take from the process. COSA volunteering reflects a range of motivations, all of which centre on a wish to participate in the creation of a constructive future, rather than providing a judgemental response to past events.

The positive results recorded in recent research looking at the follow-up behaviours of a group of 71 Circles South East Core Members (Bates et al., 2014) show that the compassion-centred approach taken by COSA volunteers is instrumentally effective in preventing reoffending. This has led to the emergence of new Circles agencies across the UK and elsewhere in Europe, motivated by a need for socially responsible and highly effective methods of dealing with this contentious and politically sensitive issue. But perhaps the greatest benefits obtained from COSA are the extension and renewal of the contact that convicted sexual offenders can have with the wider community and, crucially, of the contact that representatives of the wider community can have with convicted sexual offenders. For all the instrumental value of volunteering in this area, the key contribution that volunteer involvement makes, and which the motivations for engagement point towards, is its ability to offer an alternative to the prevailing exclusionary climate within discussions of community justice. The voluntariness of this contact allows a wide range of representatives of that community to ‘take ownership’ of issues of crime prevention, and the invocation of broadly solidaristic values that accompany it seems to underline the importance of this function. Volunteering is conducive to the development of communicative ethics and the validation of the core principles of COSA as legitimate reflections of wider public interests. In this sense, its potential effectiveness goes beyond its capacity to bring about change in individual cases, and encompasses a potentially more diffuse positive effect upon the politics of offender reintegration. It is hoped that additional research will provide us with a better understanding of the ways in which COSA increase public safety through their work, and the wider benefits for society that flow from people volunteering to assist their community in this way.


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