A ground-breaking scheme where members of the community volunteer to work with sex offenders has received two honours at an awards ceremony.
The North Wales Probation Area is the first in Wales to try the pioneering approach originally developed in Canada.
The project, Circles of Support and Accountability, is now operating in four different areas of North Wales – Wrexham, Rhyl, Colwyn Bay and Bangor.
The volunteers won the Volunteer and Community Justice Award at the ceremony organised by the North Wales Criminal Justice Awards.
And project manager Juliet Ennis, who launched the scheme last year, won an award for her outstanding contribution.
The aim of the project is make communities safer by helping sex offenders build a new crime-free life.
It’s been successful in Canada and the Thames Valley Probation Area where there’s been a 75% reduction in reoffending among those involved.
Ultimately, Miss Ennis, who works for Community Justice Interventions Wales, is hoping to secure funding to set up similar Circles of Support right across North Wales.
She said: “I’m delighted the project has been honoured in this way, especially for the sake of the volunteers whose contribution has been fantastic.
“It’s recognition of some really valuable and innovative work that is helping to make our communities safer. Becoming involved in this project has taken a leap of faith by our volunteers and our partner agencies. I am very proud.”
Miss Ennis has already signed up 55 lay people from the four communities to join Circles of Support in different areas.
And 30 of them have now been trained and are working with sex offenders in their own communities.
According to Juliet Ennis, the Circles of Support and Accountability is a vehicle to overcome barriers.
She said: “It’s difficult for sex offenders to reintegrate into society. They may have been divorced by their partner and lost contact with friends and family and are incredibly isolated.
“The support is provided by a small group of volunteers who work with individuals over a long period to help them build a new, offence-free life as well as assisting the authorities in monitoring their activities in the community.
“We are pleased with the way things are going so far and all our partner agencies have been very supportive.
“We also have amazing volunteers, a really diverse group ranging from about 20 to over 70 with a mixture of backgrounds.
“Research and common sense tells us if people have support they are less likely to commit further crimes because one offence can have serious repercussions.
“If volunteers can stop one individual they work with from committing an offence, then you have saved a person and their families from the trauma caused by sexual abuse.
“Volunteers are never on their own – they work with two or three other volunteers so they are there to support each other and it is less easy to be manipulated.
“Where the scheme has been going for a long time, there is a 75% reduction in reoffending which is excellent and we are hoping to replicate those results here.”
Among them is office worker Sally, 28, who wanted to give something back to the community.
She said: “I thought if I could help somebody not to offend then there would be no more victims. If I can stop an offender from doing it again then that is very rewarding.
“I’m a very non-judgemental person and I thought I would be able to help give them a chance of a fresh start. What they’ve done is absolutely horrendous. Helping them doesn’t mean I agree with what they’ve done.
“However, I think it is possible for people to change their behaviour and not to do it again so that another child or another adult doesn’t go through the same misery.
“Working to ensure there are fewer victims is a big motivator. Our aim is to get them back to living a crime free life.
“Not all offenders are well educated so they might need help with literacy – we can help filling in forms and looking for jobs.
“As volunteers, if you do go out into the community there is a lot of responsibility to ensure you are all safe. The whole point of this is to ensure the community is safe. You have to be very alert.
“I work with two other volunteers and the core member which gives you reassurance. There are certain individuals who won’t change and we have to accept those are the ones you have to keep in prison for as long as possible.
“But there are others who, if you work with them, can and do change.”