Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Developments in COSA-land

Hello All:

There are a number of interesting developments in the world of Circles of Support & Accountability.

In an earlier blog, I referred to an international collaboration of COSA-friendly nations during a conference in Riga, Latvia. That collaboration has continued, and there is now a European Union group of folks continuing the dialog—proving that COSA is garnering truly world-wide interest.

At this fall's ATSA conference in Toronto, Mechtild Hoing and Bas Vogelvang of the Netherlands will present COSA in Europe: Circles Together for Safety during a time slot that also includes a presentation by Fresno, California’s Clare Ann Ruth-Hefflbower entitled Into the Future: Expansion of Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) in the U.S. For those who are interested, Andrew McWhinnie, Eileen Henderson, and I will also be delivering a half-day preconference workshop on the topic, entitled Circles of Support and Accountability Comes Home.

To date, COSA has been seen largely as a Canadian and British endeavor—with those two nations having projects of considerable tenure (17 and 10 years, respectively). However, it will be important for projects outside of those two nations to take center-stage to ensure the ongoing development of the Circles movement (if you can call it that).

One of the greatest difficulties in seeding Circles of Support & Accountability—beyond recruitment of volunteers—has been establishment of the credibility of the model. Until recently, only two peer-reviewed evaluations have existed, each with admittedly small samples and short-term follow-up:

Wilson, R.J., Picheca, J.E., & Prinzo, M. (2007). Evaluating the effectiveness of professionally-facilitated volunteerism in the community-based management of high risk sexual offenders: PART TWO—A comparison of recidivism rates. Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 46, 327-337. link to abstract

Wilson, R.J., Cortoni, F., & McWhinnie, A.J. (2009). Circles of Support & Accountability: A Canadian national replication of outcome findings. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research & Treatment, 21, 412-430. link to abstract

I am pleased to announce that a third, peer-reviewed evaluation of the COSA model is now available:

Bates, A., Macrae, R., Williams, D., & Webb, C. (2011). Ever-increasing circles: A descriptive study of Hampshire and Thames Valley Circles of Support and Accountability. Journal of Sexual Aggression. Published online first February 22, 2011 as DOI: 10.1080/13552600.2010.544415. link to abstract

In this recent review, data are presented showing the effectiveness of COSA in international jurisdictions. In the United Kingdom, COSA is managed by a registered charity known as Circles UK, which is charged with promoting use of this model in England and Wales. The UK COSA model is slightly modified from the Canadian original, in that most core members are still “under license” (British terminology for continuing to be supervised by Probation Services). As such, COSAs in the UK are more formally situated within the statutory framework of criminal justice (i.e., MAPPA), whereas Canadian COSAs tend to focus on core members who are entirely post-sentence. Notwithstanding this difference, the bulk of the COSA work in the UK model remains with the voluntary sector, rendering the two models more similar than not.

In their study, Bates et al. followed 60 core members for an average period of 36.2 months; however, with no control or comparison sample. Eight core members experienced behavioral difficulties related to sexual offending, resulting in five core members being recalled to prison for probation violations and two others being placed on a Sex Offence Prevention Order (i.e., an order of recognizance). One core member (1.7%) engaged in behavior leading to a new sexual offense conviction.

Overall, the UK findings are very much in line with those reported previously in Canada in the papers noted above. Interestingly, and as a further corollary to the Canadian data, the UK project also observed a harm reduction effect, in that the core member who reoffended was convicted for downloading child pornography whereas his previous convictions were for hands-on offenses against children.

So, with the Bates et al. data in hand, we can say with some strength that the COSA model is neither regionally nor nationally specific—meaning that similar findings can be found in COSA projects whether they be located throughout a particular nation or from nation to nation. However, as many will attest (cf. pop music), breaking through in the all-important American market is key. To date, only anecdotal data exist regarding the effectiveness of the COSA model in US jurisdictions.

Currently, there are well-established COSA projects in California, Minnesota, and Vermont, with additional projects in the development or early stages in Colorado, Washington, and North Carolina, among others. Reports from the Fresno, CA coordinator (the aforementioned Clare Ann Ruth-Heffelbower) are that there have been no documented cases of sexual reoffending among the 25 COSAs formed to date; although, there have been parole violations for technical reasons, some of which were related to risk for sexual reoffense.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with folks involved in the Minnesota Department of Corrections’ COSA project, known as MnCoSA. They have established nearly 30 COSAs and are gearing up to evaluate data that will speak to the effectiveness of the model in their state. Of particular interest is the fact that the MN-COSA project has used a random assignment design—by far the most statistically-elegant research project on COSA to date. In speaking with Joann Dillavou and Bill Donnay (collaborator Grant Duwe was unable to attend) of the MN DOC, it appears that preliminary data are showing markedly similar reductions to those observed in Canada and the UK.

One last thing to note: I recently had the great pleasure of meeting with folks involved in two US-based COSA projects—specifically, those located in Denver, CO and Brattleboro, VT. Both Colorado and Vermont have been working on developing COSA projects for nearly a decade. At present, both projects are in receipt of funding from grants associated with the Second Chance Act.

All of us in the COSA world are particularly excited about developments emanating from projects run by our American and international partners.

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