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A Mixed Method Exploration of Circles of Support and Accountability for Individuals who have Previously Sexually Offended

   Institute for Lifecourse Development

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  Dr Christian Perrin  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Reoffending after a prison sentence is the norm in the UK, with two-year reconviction rates as high as 63% (Yukhnenko, 2019). Prison does not promote desistance from offending behaviour, and the social costs of this cannot be understated. In contrast, stigmatisation and ostracism represent major risk factors for further offending. Ostracised individuals are less likely to cultivate core human needs such as connectedness, self-esteem, autonomy, and a sense of meaning and purpose (Perrin & Blagden, 2014; Ryan & Deci, 2010). Individuals who fail to replenish these fundamental needs enter a ‘resignation stage’, characterised by the entrenchment of depression, helplessness, and withdrawal (Eisenberger et al., 2003). Theoretical and empirical links have been drawn between the resignation stage and all forms of recidivism (Gruter & Masters, 1986; Wilson, Bates & Völlm, 2010; Williams, 2007). As such, it can be argued that ostracism constitutes a dynamic risk factor for cycles of offending behaviour. This of course points to the need for community-based programmes which buffer the social isolation faced by returning ex-prisoners.

Circles of Support & Accountability (COSA) is a community-based initiative which provides an alternate means of social support to high-risk offenders released at the end of their sentences without any community supervision. Circles are comprised of the reintegrating ex-offender (known as the core member) and six community volunteers who provide emotional and practical support via weekly meetings which are managed by Circles UK, local police forces, and collaborating aftercare charities. The aim is to assist the core member in tackling the social and emotional obstacles that come with prison-community transition, thus reducing risk of reoffence. Emerging research into the efficacy of COSA report an 83% reduction in sexual recidivism, a 73% reduction in all types of violent recidivism, and an overall reduction of 71% in all types of recidivism in comparison to (ex)offenders not attached to a Circle (Wilson, Cortoni & McWhinnie, 2009). It is suggested that Circles act as a buffer for risk factors such as impulsivity, emotional dysregulation, helplessness, and social isolation (Wilson, McWhinnie, Picheca, Prinzo & Cortoni (2007). However, little is known about the psychological mechanisms that connect core members to their Circles and how these interrelations might reduce risk. Theoretically, Circles as a rehabilitative program can be reconceptualised as an ostracism recovery intervention. There is great social impact in developing a deeper understanding of an initiative which purports to reduce crime by margins that no other implementation has achieved. Accordingly, this research adopts a mixed-method approach to interrogate the following research questions:

1.    How are COSA experienced by ex-offenders and volunteers?

2.    How does COSA mediate the risk factors associated with reoffending?

3.    How is ostracism related to the connection to a Circle?

4.    What are the long-term outcomes for those who reintegrate with COSA vs those who do not?

Candidates should propose a minimum of three studies (preferably featuring both quantitative and qualitative elements) that correspond to the above research questions.

If you would like to discuss this opportunity and the PhD project before applying, please contact Dr Christian Perrin (Senior Lecturer of Psychology) [Email Address Removed].

Duration: 3 years Full-Time Study or 6 years Part-Time Study.

Type: Self-Funded.

How to Apply:

Please read this information before making an application. Information on the application process is available at:

Applications need to be made online via this link. No other form of application will be considered. Please submit your application under the PhD Human Sciences programme. All applications must include the following information. Applications not containing these documents will not be considered:

• A research proposal (about 1500 words) related to the subject topic *

• A CV including 2 referees * (one ideally being from a dissertation supervisor)

• Personal statement outlining the motivation for this PhD and this particular project

• Academic qualification certificates/transcripts and IELTs/English Language certificate if you are an international applicant or if English is not your first language or you are from a country where English is not the majority spoken language as defined by the UK Border Agency *

*upload to the qualification section of the application form. Attachments must be a PDF format.

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