the friend online
02 October 2009

Peace for all

Stephen Hanvey tells the story of a remarkable project that Quakers helped create in Britain

An extraordinary meeting is to take place tonight. It may be not far from you, but you will not hear much about it, if anything. Four or five carefully selected and trained volunteers will meet and spend an hour or so talking over a cup of coffee with someone that many people would cross a number of roads, at best, to avoid. Circles of Support and Accountability (Circles) are taking root as a practical, humane and highly costeffective means of contributing to safer communities and helping known sex-offenders to avoid reoffending.

Those who have committed sexual abuse against children, and adults, are possibly the most demonised and feared individuals in our communities. But they are in our communities and Circles at last offer a means of keeping a watchful eye on those who present a known risk, while providing them with a level of social contact and support. Like the two blades of a pair of scissors, the ‘accountability’ (Circles work closely with police and probation) and vital ‘support’ is having a marked impact on reducing re-offending rates amongst this group of medium- and high-risk offenders. Circles were developed by Mennonite church communities in Canada in the 1990s. Quaker Peace and Social Witness and the Lucy Faithfull Foundation had the vision to set up two pilot projects here, and now the national charity Circles UK has been established to ‘roll out’ the programme more widely. Canadian research on the effectiveness of Circles in reducing reoffending rates and reconvictions shows remarkable results. Two studies (see for details), comparing outcomes for known sex offenders who experienced a Circle for four years against a matched control group of offenders who did not, demonstrated a much lower rate of reoffending behaviour and reconviction among the Circle group. It is not difficult to understand why this should be so. The loneliness and disconnectedness from ordinary social contact increases the risks of reoffending. As long as society adopts a strategy that is happy to see high-risk offenders who expressly wish not to reoffend go largely unsupported and unaided in their intention on release, we should not be surprised when they fail. There are now ten local Circles projects across England and Wales, running over fifty Circles and with some 300 volunteers involved. Dutch probation colleagues are now establishing Circles and links have been made for them with Quakers in Holland. Circles UK itself provides training, coordination and direction, ensuring high standards are maintained nationally.

Mark, one of our longer-standing Circle members, was himself abused by male relatives as a boy and introduced into a paedophile ring, where he in turn abused children. He had spent multiple periods in prison. When released and offered a Circle, he readily accepted, as he had no contacts, apart from other offenders, through which to build any new relationships, and no positive role models. His Circle meets weekly, with one or two volunteers accompanying him occasionally to hospital appointments, or simply taking him for coffee in a ‘safe’ place. At one point the Circle had to tell Mark’s probation officer they had growing concerns about his behaviour and he was recalled to prison for a period, where the Circle carried on meeting with him, with the governor’s consent. Mark has now been back in the community for three years, has not reoffended and with his Circle’s support manages to stay focused on avoiding situations likely to lead him into harming others. Certainly real progress, but nobody is claiming Mark is ‘cured’. He still cannot believe anyone is prepared to spend time with him without being paid for it! But Circles volunteers are pretty exceptional people.

Visit for further information.

Stephen Hanvey is the executive director of Circles UK.

Stephen Hanvey


This week's .pdf
In this week's online edition... rss edition

A testimony to Love
Judy Kirby, Editor
Circles of silence
Gerard Benson
A view of Quakers
David Wood
Testimony to peace
Helen Steven
Middle East witness
Ann Wright
Peace for all
Stephen Hanvey
Living the testimonies
Helen Drewery
Harvey Gillman
Testimony to Equality
Jonathan Dale
Committed relationships
Phil Lucas
Quaker thought in literature
Marina Lewycka
Quaker thought in poetry
Gerard Benson
Ros Smith
Marian Liebmann
Equality and social justice
Belinda Hopkins
Testimony to Simplicity
Jan Arriens and Marion McNaughton
Laurie Michaelis
Testimony to Truth
Linda Pegler
Integrity in public life
Tony Stoller

Things to do, where to stay, people to see etc...

download this issue

save this page

most recent comments:
Letters, Ala
Quaker approach to business under the spotlight, David Hitchin
Tackling the pay gap from both ends, anonymous poster
Some more equal than others?, anonymous poster
Climate Camp experience, Frances Laing
Climate Camp experience, Frances Laing
The centrality of worship, Andrew Hatton, Maldon LM, Essex
In the care of the Meeting?, chrissie hinde
Lockerbie grief and justice, Jennifer Barraclough
The centrality of worship, Peter Arnold
The top ten reasons (plus three) why bottled water is a blessing, Fee Berry
Letters, David Hitchin
Marriage and committed relationships, Fee Berry
George Fox and same gender partnership, Chris Bagley
Marriage and committed relationships, Chris Bagley
Meeting for meditation?, Barry
Meeting for ‘weorthscipe’?, Gerard Guiton
Report shows that all is not well in multicultural Britain, chrissie hinde
Johann Sebastian Bach and the Jews, Peter Arnold
Prisons: our growth industry, Peer Arnold

Save on your phone bills with:
the phone co-op - your voice counts