Circles of Support and Accountability: Case Study
Senior Coordinator, John Wiseman, shares a case study of one of our core members. He reflects on their journey; including goals and aims of the circle, his changing moods, a distant probation officer and his final settling in to the process.
The Core Member (CM) is an adult male who was convicted of serious sexual offences together with his stepfather, including 4 counts of rape and 3 counts of indecent assault, all of which related to the children of his stepfather’s partner. Both he and his stepfather were sentenced to Life Imprisonment.
He was released to a Probation managed Approved Premises having served in excess of 20 years in prison.
He was assessed as suitable for a circle and met with his allocated circle of volunteers twice whilst on temporary release from Prison (ROTL). Since his release on parole he has met with the volunteers on a weekly basis.
The initial aims and goals of the circle were broadly as follows:
To provide the CM with support and practical advice and assistance in terms of his resettlement into a new area following a long period of time in prison; to provide support and assistance with the development of an informal social network as a key protective factor against reoffending; and to offer support and guidance in terms of medium to longer term accommodation and employment.
In addition, as with all circles, the aim was to provide an additional layer of accountability for the CM to help manage his risk in the community and working closely in partnership with both probation and the Police to support compliance with the conditions of his parole licence.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the CM was incredibly anxious following his release, continually looking over his shoulder as if he expected to be rearrested and returned to prison. As such, the first few weeks of the circle were spent trying to build a positive rapport between the CM and the volunteers before any meaningful work could be done with him to address his many issues and concerns, not least the matter of where he would live at the end of his period in the Approved Premises. The circle went through a very difficult period of ‘storming, forming and norming’ over the first 10–12 weeks with the CM’s moods swinging from one extreme to the other, at one moment saying that he didn’t think he could continue with the circle and the next saying how helpful and supportive he found it. Indeed, at the point of the First Review Meeting after approximately 8 weeks, it was unclear whether the circle would continue.
This was not helped by the fact that the CMs’ Probation Officer at that time was based in the North East (Sunderland) and engagement with this individual proved quite challenging.
To their credit, meanwhile, the volunteers remained calm and consistent in their approach throughout and the First Review Meeting proved to be a watershed moment as the CM was confronted by his erratic behaviour. He was reminded that his involvement in the circle was purely voluntary but designed to offer him support, as well as to hold him to account for his behaviour, but that it could only help him if he was open and honest with the volunteers.
Thereafter, having agreed to continue with the circle, there was a distinct change in the mood and tone of the meetings, not that the CM didn’t still have his down moments, but overall the meetings became more positive and constructive and the CM began to listen and to act on the guidance offered to him.
Suffice to say that, a month or so later, when the CM had to leave the Approved Premises and to move out of the area completely, he asked if he could continue to travel back to the area in which the circle had started in order to continue with the circle. This was made possible with the support of the local probation team that agreed to fund his weekly travel back for the circle meetings and the circle has gone from strength to strength ever since and is now moving into its final 3 months.
The relationship with both probation and the Police since the CMs’ transfer to the local area has been first class and this has undoubtedly assisted in managing the CMs’ issues. Indeed, without the support of the local Probation Manager in agreeing to fund the CMs’ travel down to the area of his initial release in order to continue his circle attendance, the circle would have had to come to a premature end.
So that, at the time of writing and as the circle moves into its’ final 3 months, the CM presents as being far more relaxed and self-confident and better able to deal with difficult challenges which arise from time to time. All of which bodes well for his continued good progress as he continues to build a new life for himself in the community
None of this would have been possible without the resilience and the determination of the volunteers, who persevered and persisted throughout, and it is a testament to their commitment and their dedication that the circle has progressed so well since those difficult early days. Indeed, it would be right to say that the Circle has been the only constant in the CM’s life since his release from prison and without it, I think it is unlikely that the CM would still be out in the community and starting to build a future for himself once more.