In the framework of the European project ‘Circles Europe: Together for Safety’, an innovative sex offender programme for safe re-integration implemented in the Netherlands and Belgium, with the help of the British NGO Circles UK. The lessons learned in this project have been extensively described in a European Handbook (downloadable via the CEP website). “With the Handbook we aim to support the implementation of the COSA-programme in other European countries while maintaining the high quality of deliverance that has been established thus far”, explains researcher and author of the book Mechtild Höing.
Supporting and monitoring medium and high risk sex offenders in the community with the involvement of the community. That is the basic idea behind the programme Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA). With COSA a sex offender is surrounded by a ‘circle’ of three to six volunteers, preferably from the local community, who regularly meet the core member (= the sex offender). The volunteers (the ‘inner circle’) assist the core member resettling in the community by stimulating pro-social behavior and by providing moral support and practical help. However, they are also trained to recognize deviant behavior with the core member. In that case they will alert members of the so called ‘outer circle’ that consists of professionals, such as probation officer, therapist or police officer, who can take whatever steps necessary to prevent relapse.
Developed in Canada in the mid-90’s, COSA was first introduced in Europe in 2002 in England & Wales. In 2008, Avans University of Applied Sciences and Reclassering Nederland took the initiative to introduce COSA in the Netherlands by adapting the method as it was used in the UK. “Right from the beginning, Bas Vogelvang, Professor at the Avans University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, recognized the potential of COSA for other European jurisdictions”, recalls Mechtild Höing. “He therefore proposed to study the conditions for the successful introduction of COSA on the basis of the implementation process in the Netherlands. This idea was developed into a project proposal that also included the piloting of COSA in Flanders, Belgium, in order to proof the findings from the Dutch implementation.” The proposal, supported by Avans University of Applied Sciences, Reclassering Nederland, Circles UK, Justitiehuis Antwerpen and CEP, was submitted under the DAPHNE III funding programme of the European Union.
The project proposal was eventually awarded with a grant and was executed between November 2009 and December 2011. Meanwhile, the interest among professionals within forensic mental health care, probation organisations, other stakeholders and universities was increasing considerably all over Europe. “COSA is in many ways remarkable”, says Mechtild Höing. “Canadian research shows that COSA can reduce recidivism by some 70%. But it also hands back the problems that occur in the community to the community. Therefore COSA empowers citizens to engage actively in criminal justice, thus contributing to community building and to strengthening public trust in criminal justice. However, it should be mentioned that strict compliance with the programme model which is described in a code of practice is a precondition for effectiveness. The European COSA model therefore includes several procedures to ensure programme integrity.. In the Handbook all aspects to get started in the specific national context as well as the implementation process are described. In addition, the Handbook gives an overview of the protocols and manuals that are needed for a thorough implementation for Circles, as well as procedures for monitoring and evaluation. For academics involved in the implementation a description is give of how to gather and use evidence.”
You can download the European Handbook COSA Implementation by clicking here, or order a printed version by email at the CEP secretariat: firstname.lastname@example.org
In a next stage, the European Handbook may be further developed. Currently, Avans University of Applied Sciences and CEP are preparing a European project in which COSA would be rolled out in other jurisdictions in Europe, which offers the opportunity to further ‘test’ the methods described in the Handbook.