Brazil is one of the most violent nations in the world. According to the World Health Organization, 63,895 Brazilians were murdered in 2017. That marks the nation’s homicide rate as one of the highest in the world.

On top of that, many in Brazil support violent policing methods, which have taken root in a popular motto Bandido bom é bandido morto (“The only good criminal is a dead criminal”). But the support is not all-encompassing.

According to a study published in 2017 by the Centre for Studies on Public Safety and Citizenship at the University Candido Mendes, 73.4% of daily churchgoers, mostly evangelical Christians, reject the idea that “the only good criminal is a dead criminal.” The study also points out that evangelicals were the most likely to support the idea that a criminal can become a good citizen.

That belief is what has allowed the Association for the Protection and Assistance of the Condemned (APAC) to help so many people in Brazil.

Dr. Mario Ottoboni founded APAC in São José de Campos, Brazil, in 1972. Since then, Prison Fellowship Brazil has spread the program to over 50 prisons throughout the country. Dr. Ottoboni developed the APAC methodology centred around love. In a recent interview, David Van Patten, COO of Prison Fellowship International, spoke about how APAC works by counteracting Brazilians’ preconceptions about crime.

“The main, driving force is they’re saturated with a different view of who they are,” Van Patten explained. He went on to detail how APAC helps prisoners reconsider “who they can be in relationship to the people they’ve harmed, their families, and other people in the community.”

And there is a clear need for the APAC program within Brazilian prisons.

“What we’ve learned,” Van Patten said, “is that about a third of the prisoners in any prison want to change and can change. But without help, won’t change.”

And as prisoners have changed, so have the prisons. Within the APAC methodology, prisons don’t have guards or any other paid staff. They are run by volunteers, as well as the prisoners themselves. Unlike traditional prisons, which often focus on punishment, APAC prisons are institutions focused on love, forgiveness, and transformation.

While Brazil may be the birthplace of the APAC program, it is not the only place where it is helping to change lives. Prison Fellowships in Colombia, Ecuador, and Chile have all seen APAC programs work in their prisons. And Prison Fellowship national ministries around the world have noticed the success in Latin America, and are starting to experiment with similar models. Ministries in Europe, Asia, and North America are all beginning to experiment with programs based on the APAC model.

“The opportunity is bigger than our ability to fund it,” says Van Patten. “More governments and prison directors are asking for Prison Fellowship [International] to come in and do work in their countries than we can support. The bottom line is funding.”

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