Re-integrating people who have committed a sexual offence

Improving society’s attitudes and involving communities in rehabilitation programmes is key to preventing repeat sexual offences, say UWE Bristol researchers.

Professor of Criminology Kieran McCartan worked with statutory and charitable organisations in the UK, Latvia and New Zealand to evaluate how different approaches impacted the rates of reoffending among people convicted of sexual offences.

Based on the practical application of his evidence-based recommendations, his findings reveal the transformative power of community-focused initiatives that place public health and wellbeing at the fore.

Group of people sat around a table discussing a document at a meeting.

Proactive rather than punitive

There are approximately 58,000 individuals currently on the sexual offences register in England and Wales, (not including those in prison). Re-integrating people back into the community and preventing repeat offences is a responsibility that falls to governmental organisations. These include the prison and probation service, and community-based interventions such as the Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) programme.

CoSA, which sees volunteers across England and Wales modelling prosocial behaviour to people convicted of sexual offences, was one of the organisations involved in the UWE Bristol study.

The programme’s supportive approach was critical in helping offenders to desist from further criminal behaviour. CoSA’s proactive, partnership-based style was found to be more effective than a punitive attitude. As a result, 21 out of 32 study participants increased their prosocial integration.

Changing approaches

CoSA went on to formulate a new code of practice to guide how all of its 946 community circles work and measure their outcomes. The study inspired the UK’s prison and probation service to change its frontline staffing approach when assessing, managing and integrating offenders.

In Latvia, the research fed into the development of a new national plan for probation and policy practices relating to the prevention of child sexual abuse. Whereas the Government’s approach had previously taken a punitive approach to working with potential sexual offenders, Professor McCartan’s work inspired a shift towards a more public health and prevention-oriented methodology.

In New Zealand, Professor McCartan’s research and recommendations on best practice directly influenced the development, implementation and evaluation of the sexual offenders’ register and disclosure scheme. As with the UK, changes resulted in greater staff training, risk assessment and offender management.

The Confederation of European Probation subsequently used research from UWE Bristol to reshape its policy and recommendations to practitioners regarding the management of offenders. This led to the Council of Europe inviting Professor McCartan to lead on its first set of recommendations on the assessment, management and integration of people who have committed sexual offences.

Professor McCartan’s insights into the role of public health and preventative approaches have also been supported by the NSPCC, and influenced global bodies such as the International Working Group for the Prevention of Online Sex Offending.