Circles of Support and Accountability for Sex Offenders in England and Wales: Their Origins and Implementation Between 1999-2005

Published 18/03/2009
Type Article
Author(s) Mike Nellis
Corresponding Authors Mike Nellis, Professor of Crime and Community Justice, Glasgow School of Social Work, University of Strathclyde

Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) are an innovative, volunteer-based means of supervising sex offenders, usually upon release from prison, which were ‘transplanted’ from Canada to England and Wales at the turn of the 21st century. The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and the Lucy Faithful Foundation, were concerned with both the extreme demonisation of sex offenders in the press, and with the need to find better ways of safeguarding children from sexual abuse. The Home Office was simultaneously developing new mechanisms of public protection and funded three COSA pilot schemes between 2002 and 2005. The processes of development and implementation were essentially informal and improvised, crucially dependent on the choices, decisions, energy, status and reputations of particular individuals in particular places and networks. Circles flourished at the intersection of a nascent official concern with public protection, and the determination of faith-based professional activists (and others) to reaffirm the redeemability of sex offenders, but there was never a “structural logic” which made the emergence of COSA inevitable. Drawing on information from the key players, this  paper details the processes by which they came into being.