A more effective alternative for the reinsertion and recuperation of prisoners

Author: Fernando Varela

APAC project

Credits: Marina Lorusso y Antonello Veneri

For those who have been in contact with the reality of prison system in Latin America, the APAC [1] experience results even more surprising – if possible. In the vast majority of the prisons of this region, which embody the depths of human indignity, hundreds of people serve their sentences in spaces where overcrowding,dirt, and inhuman treatment are very extended, and where the human rights are visibly lacking.

The growth of violence and insecurity in the region, reaching very high quotas, has generated in public opinion a demand of greater action from public authorities to face the problem, which has been materialized in an increase of the prison population. However, the political priorities are more oriented towards other needs and the resources derived to prisons are limited, perpetuating a system saturated, inhuman and not effective in terms of reinsertion, with high rates of evasion and recidivism and where riots, which are the expression of the internal tension lived, are tragically recurrent.

Some international organism such as the European Union have echoed this situation and brought funds and technical cooperation to showcase the lessons derived from modernization processes of the European prisons systems in the context of conventional Latin American systems. The European experience and, concretely, the Spanish one – for being one of the most recent – are very interesting in terms of knowledge transfer in several aspects, such as management of centers, penitentiary systems, classification of captives, design of infrastructure, plans of therapy or information systems and coordination with the legal sphere.

However, even if very relevant progresses have been reached regarding the conditions of detainees’ internment in Europe, including the preservation of remarkable conditions of dignity, and despite the efforts, they have showed their limits in making reality their duty of reintegration to society. We can say that they fulfill their punishable function but show their limits regarding the efficacy of the reinsertion process.

Surprisingly, the APAC experience has emerged in this European and Latin American context, with the aim to offer a complete rethinking in the way to face the reality of how to deal with people who have committed offences against society. This experience has been brilliantly presented during an exhibition that took place in the framework of Encuentro Madrid (“Madrid Encounter”) last April, and where some of the protagonists of the initiative were present.

Concretely, these structures have appeared as alternative centers for the execution of sentences, friendlier and better equipped, based on a different perception of the prisoner, no longer seen as the guilty who has to pay for his offence but becomes a person whose value is above his crime. This conception leads the prisoner to be considered as a person in recovery and that, even if his offence is very serious, can be reinserted in a positive way into society.

In these centers there is no police, no weapons, the management and maintenance tasks are performed by the own prisoners.

In these centers there is no police, no weapons, the management and maintenance tasks are performed by the own prisoners, the rates of evasion are much smaller and the reinsertion and reintegration into society very high. Can it be true? Is it really possible? Is it satisfactorily corroborated?

Amazingly, this reality is already quite extended. The APAC experience exists for 44 years and has 50 centers in Brazil working with 10.000 “recoverings”, especially in the State of Mina Gerais.  There is a political will to extend this network with a current demand to create 30 new centers and several countries are already implementing elements of this method.

The so called “Social Reinsertion Centers”, as have been renamed the APAC, are based on an approach going further the incarceration to focus on recovery. The “recovering” is called by his name, his humanity and efforts are put in value, he is granted responsibility, he is allowed to develop his spiritual dimension, his family and community are involved. This process can even lead to put the responsible of the harm in contact with the victim to overcome the damage caused through forgiveness and reconciliation.

It is undoubtedly an experience that questions the current ways to operate and, at the same time, opens new paths to revolutionize a sector full of prejudices and needing new approaches to give answer to hard challenges such as reinsertion.

The APAC experience, born from the dedication of a group of people with a huge social commitment, represents a ray of light in a field in which human miseries emerge inside and outside the penitentiary centers.

[1] APAC: Association for the Protection and Assistance to the Convicted Persons (Brazil)

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