Circles South West
Circles South West works with those convicted of sexual offences where they have been assessed as being at high or very high risk of re-offending and/or causing serious harm.
The service reduces the risk of reoffending by known perpetrators by 70% and is co-commissioned with The National Probation Service. The PCC supports Circles SW via the Safer Dorset Fund as it aims to reduce the number of victims of crime, reduce the number of people seriously harmed in Dorset and reduce re-offending. By working with those who have previously been convicted of sexual offences (‘Core Members’), Circles aims to prevent any future sexual assaults being committed.
Carefully selected local volunteers are vetted and trained by professionals and work with core members who are motivated to live an offence-free life. Each ‘circle’ is a group of between four and six volunteers who form a circle of support around an offender for between 12 – 18 months and it is expected of Circles SW to establish between 4 and 6 new Dorset Circles as part of their funding agreement with the Safer Dorset Fund. Through meetings and constant support, they work with the offender, monitor them and hold them to account in the community. In addition, they model healthy, pro-social behaviours and help ease the transition from incarceration to living within a community. It has been shown that emotional and social loneliness are key factors in increasing the risk of tendency to recommit. Therefore, the support provided by a circle greatly reduces their chance of re-offending. Other advice and help is given, such as assistance in re-settling back into the community and practical support, and how to handle money.
An external independent evaluation of Circles SW has shown that the project has been successful in their work. 70% of core members have said they feel more integrated into the community and have improved their community links by joining a social club such as the rambling club, beekeeping club or regularly attending church. Moreover, they greatly reduced their isolation and loneliness by attending their Circle. 70% of the core members increased living skills such as money/debt management.
J was referred for a circle by his probation officer in May 2014, aged 22. He had been convicted of downloading indecent images of children and was sentenced to a Community Order with the requirements to complete three years supervision and the Thames Valley Sex Offender Programme. However, he was deemed unsuitable for this intervention because of his Asperger’s Syndrome.
J had previous convictions for: Sexual Assault on a male child under 13, engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child under 13 and Cause/incite a male child under 13 to engage in sexual activity. He was reported to have abused two brothers who were aged 7 and 8 over a two year period.
J’s circle was made up of four female volunteers. The probation officer hoped that his circle would be able to reducing his social isolation, building his confidence and offering him support. His Circles work focused on building trust, discussing boundaries, motivational work such as finding employment and social activities to engage with, social skills and relapse prevention. The Circle helped build J’s courage to join a LGBT youth group and ‘Over the Rainbow’, a group where he can meet other young gay males. They also helped J focus on his relapse prevention strategies, which helped him remember potential risks and how to combat them.
The volunteers who have helped J are very proud of the way in which they have been able to help him with his progress and achievements.
They have said: “J has said how much he has enjoyed and benefited from our Circle, that by setting him weekly targets to complete, we have played a part in him learning to drive, meeting new people, and growing in confidence”
“I firmly believe this (J growing in confidence) is due to him actually having to work on a relationship with us, and that we challenge him on certain behaviour, which I don’t feel he would get elsewhere in his life”
“On a personal note his Circle has helped me grow in confidence as a circle volunteer and embedded the fact that I would someday like to make the career move into working with offenders in some way”
Other core members have said: Since my release in July , and a few weeks before it, I have been involved with Circles. They [the volunteers] all have been a great help by encouraging me and giving me the confidence to take on local activities, U3A, Chatterbox Community drop-in centre, and Jazz Appreciation. To me they are a wonderful group of people… the Circles are indeed a God send”
Find out more about Circles South West and the work they do.