Circles of Support & Accountability: The Role of the Community in Effective Sexual Offender Risk Management

  • Robin J. Wilson
  • Andrew J. McWhinnie


The release of sexual offenders to the community continues to raise concerns for lawmakers, criminal justice professionals, and the community at large. Over the last 30 years, legislative attempts were made to limit sexual offender release opportunities and movement, including longer sentences, lifetime probation, registration and notification, and GPS monitoring. However, the science behind these measures remains questionable, and emerging reports suggest that some measures may actually cause more harm than good. Specifically, some current risk management efforts create greater social ostracism and isolation for offenders, which are linked to increased risk. Against this backdrop, attempts have been made to inject restorative justice theory and practice into ensuring higher reintegration potential for released sexual offenders. In this chapter, we focus primarily on the Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) model of wraparound care for high-risk/high-need sexual offenders. CoSA began in Canada as a grassroots effort to address the difficulties posed by the release of high-risk/high-need sexual offenders with little community support or opportunities for safe reintegration. The CoSA model consists of two concentric circles, the inner of which is comprised of a released sexual offender, known as a core member, and four to six trained and supported community volunteers. The outer circle is comprised of local professionals with expert knowledge about sexual offender risk management. The volunteers provide support and an accountability framework for the offender, often mimicking the sort of family or friendly relationships enjoyed by non-offending citizens, while the outer circle is available to provide training and professional consultation to the inner circle as needed. The CoSA model has been in use in Canada for 20 years and the United Kingdom for more than 10 and is gaining increased favor in the United States and other international jurisdictions. Research findings suggest that risk for sexual reoffending may be reduced by as much as 70 % or more in comparison to similar offenders who do not receive a CoSA. The model is described in depth, research findings are summarized, and policy and practice implications are discussed.


Sexual offender risk management Circles of support and accountability Restorative justice Volunteers Wraparound care Evidence-based practices 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wilson Psychological Services LLCSarasotaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural NeurosciencesMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  3. 3.Andrew J. McWhinnie ConsultingVictoriaCanada

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