The U.K.-based child protection agency Lucy Faithfull Foundation and the social action wing of the U.K. Quakers officially launched the restorative justice program Circles of Support and Accountability (Circles) for people who have committed sex offenses and do not have a support system when released from prison. The goal of the program is to safely and securely reintroduce them into the community and reduce their recidivism rate. Circles’ twofold mandate is “No more victims” and “No one is disposable.”
Begun by Mennonites in Canada in the mid-1990s, the Circles model grew out of one community’s faith-based response to a sexual offender among them. After release from prison, people who have committed sex offenses regularly experience a high degree of isolation, which many studies show often leads to reoffending. Thus, shunning the offender can increase the community’s risk.
Circles are made up of volunteers trained to support, advise, and hold high-risk sex offenders accountable for their actions. The volunteers work closely with parole officers, social services, local law enforcement, and the community. “It was quite a daunting task for a small faith group like the Quakers to set up and run a pilot Circles project,” Quaker representative Helen Drewery told Sojourners. “But we were inspired by the support given by the Mennonites in Canada and convinced that this humane approach is deeply right.” Over the last six years, the U.K. pilot project has worked with 49 offenders. None have committed a new sexual offense.