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"Friendship Circles" for Sex Offenders

The world would be a much better place if we could keep sex offenders from repeating their crimes once they've served a prison term and been released. Here's an interesting strategy from the United Kingdom: "friendship circles."
Sarah from London is a volunteer ... [who] regularly meets a man convicted of serious sex offences against children who has since been released back into the community.

She's part of a "circle" which befriends but also monitors offenders. The idea came from Canada where a survey by the country's prison service found it reduced re-offending by 70%. The first circles in the UK were formed in 2002 and there are currently 63 running across England and Wales. It is based on the premise that while some offenders have friends and family to return to when they come out of prison, others have not and the more isolated they are, the more likely they are to re-offend.

In their meetings, the volunteers talk with offenders about what might trigger reoffending and how to avoid it, and how to find a job and rejoin society in a positive way.

Here in the States we spend a lot of time debating things like public databases of convicted offenders but think less about strategies that focus on rehabilitation and reintegration. Maybe we should think about balancing the cold monitoring with some more therapeutic stuff like this. It's a kinder approach and—if that 70 percent reduction in recidivism is real—it could have real public safety benefits. Programs like this would require a lot from the volunteers. Sitting down with a serious sex offender might be hard to stomach. But those with the requisite composure, compassion, and self control to do this work well would be doing us all a solid.

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