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The Brazilian prison system serves over 300,000 imprisoned citizens in the country, of which 70 percent are young people. The violence that reigns in the system puts the jailed population at constant risk. André Abreu developed a participatory model for social reintegration of jailed youths in Ceará, organizing social networks made up of inmates and civil society organizations, with participation of families and penitentiary agents. This work enables the young people not only to improve their lives inside the penal units but also to have better reintegration in society when they leave prison

This profile below was prepared when Carlos Andre Abreu Carneiro was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2005.


The Brazilian prison system serves over 300,000 imprisoned citizens in the country, of which 70 percent are young people. The violence that reigns in the system puts the jailed population at constant risk. André Abreu developed a participatory model for social reintegration of jailed youths in Ceará, organizing social networks made up of inmates and civil society organizations, with participation of families and penitentiary agents. This work enables the young people not only to improve their lives inside the penal units but also to have better reintegration in society when they leave prison


André, a former penitentiary agent, seeks to effectively reintegrate the imprisoned population of Ceará, preparing young inmates to have more opportunities in their reintegration to society, as well as preparing society to better receive those who leave the penitentiary system. The social emancipation of this population results from developing their productive abilities and from engaging several civil society organizations, as well as families, in the process of reintegration and empowerment.

Through NAAVIS—Núcleo de Articulações e Atividades Vertentes à Inclusão Social (Center of Articulation and Activities for Social Inclusion), a nonprofit civil society organization, André’s approach consists of organizing inmates, penitentiary agents, families, and civil society organizations in truly social networks, with strategies guided from the bottom upwards, according to the demand of the prison community. The working model of NAAVIS starts with a diagnosis, performed together with inmates and penitentiary agents in each prison, on the needs and interests of that prison community. Next, according to the collected information, the partner organizations provide services that meet these needs, including training and technical/educational assistance. The inmates become responsible for implementing various social programs from within the prison walls that will ultimately prepare inmates for work, family, and community life once they leave prison.

The joint effort with civil society enables change within the prison system and helps meet prisoners´ needs that are currently unmet by the existing structure. Through citizen sector organizations, the youths receive multidisciplinary education and access to external resources to help with their reintegration process, especially involving income generation. This joint effort also fortifies their ties with the outside world, facilitating their reintegration with families and society, led by social sector organizations, to reduce discrimination after prison. This work also reduces violence rates in prisons and youths’ recidivism rates and improves relationships between inmates and penitentiary agents. The NAAVIS model is already being disseminated in other cities of the state of Ceará and in over four Brazilian states.


Brazil has the second largest prison population in the Americas, with over 300,000 imprisoned men and women (almost 0.2 percent of the total population), of which roughly 70 percent are under 29 years old. For the past ten years, the number of prisoners in the country has doubled, while the number of prisons and prison employees has remained essentially the same. An already strained system, therefore, faces a growing burden. Violence within prison systems is increasingly hard to control, with guards themselves resorting to cruel and brutal measures, in direct violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration of Children’s Rights. Inhumane prison conditions create despair and only fuel the cycle of violence among prisoners, aggravating the dangers for this vulnerable population.

These conditions within prisons also make it harder for prisoners to rehabilitate and prepare for the realities of life after their sentences end. While this is recognized as a problem, many social organizations—as well as the Brazilian government—seem to simply turn away rather than coordinate to develop lasting solutions for prisoner integration. Prisoners are regarded as a “lost” population, and their needs and potential contributions to society are overlooked. This “anti-prisoner” culture contributes to further social exclusion of this population and makes any form of social and economic reintegration impossible.

The most critical failure of current measures is a failure to engage family members, communities, and penitentiary agents in the rehabilitation process. Only when these actors work together—and with a special attention for and knowledge of the prisoners’ situation—will successful reintegration begin. More prison guards are needed for sure, but simply adding more enforcers inside prisons will never address the more important problem of dealing with the incarcerated once they are outside the prison walls.


Andre’s methodology starts with a local diagnosis of the needs, interests, and assets of the prison population, as well as the efforts that have been or are being developed. Following this, outside resources are tapped such as citizen sector organizations, community bodies, family members, and volunteers in order to meet specific needs. Other actors in the system, such as penitentiary agents, are also involved.

After the diagnosis, the next steps include: (1) planning the work of the prisoners, which includes defining the necessary resources and selecting potential multipliers among the imprisoned population, and (2) capacity building to develop the abilities of the inmates to contribute to the rehabilitation process from within the prison walls. All of the work involves other civil society organizations that are willing to participate with their methodologies for transformation of this population. Based on the interests and needs of the inmates, NAAVIS identifies organizations that bring knowledge, training, and technical assistance for the social work that is proposed and maintained by the inmates.

The capacity building seeks to fill essential gaps in the formation of the youths (encompassing themes such as ethics and citizenship, environmental education, social responsibility, management, development, and sustainability) and allows inmates to develop their projects with systemic vision, creating positive social capital in the prisons and securing economic feasibility and social impact for their efforts. Internal leaders with advanced schooling levels (elementary and/or medium level) are prioritized so that their dexterity and leadership in the experiences of the penal unit will facilitate implementation of the process and its replication to the other inmates. At the Penal Institute Paulo Sarasate (IPPS), in Fortaleza, this methodology has already been applied in training 130 out of 1,600 internees and over 1,000 of them were involved in the cultural and environmental activities.

The initiatives for supporting the inmates and their projects are jointly developed between NAAVIS and several organizations, many of which are led by Ashoka Fellows. With the MANDALLA Agency (of Fellow Willy Pessoa, specialized in Consortium Agro Ecology in Harmony with the Environment), they are implementing three “Mandalla” agricultural systems. With Comunidade Empreendedora de Sonhos (of Fellow Egidio Guerra), they are seeking funding from the Federal Government to apply their technology in business management and incubation to innovate artisan production with recyclable material and selective waste collection (Arte do Lixo at IPPS) through the recycling incubator. There are also many efforts linked to culture and leisure, among which the H2 EM CADEIA project from the Brazilian Organized Hip Hop Movement (MH2O, of Fellow Johnson Sales), which urged the musical group Rap Do Sistema and encouraged inclusion initiatives, and the Trupe do Riso, with former inmates as members of the group, which promotes inclusion of art and training in clown theatrics for performances in hospitals and communities at social risk.

The development of these joint efforts allow prisoners to leave the penitentiary system with actual capacities and feasible opportunities; they become people who are capable of planning their own lives and assuming responsibility for their future, both individually and collectively. The work of NAAVIS also helps society to be more prepared to reintegrate these individuals, for it involves families in the reintegration process and trains the partner citizen sector organizations on the Brazilian penitentiary system so they can prioritize and improve their work towards the imprisoned population and former inmates.

This methodology also contributes to the overall effectiveness of the penal system, with the reduction of the recidivism rate. Since its implementation at IPPS in 1998, there was only one case of recidivism among the 72 former inmates, as compared to a national rate of 38 to 45 percent. In addition, implemented actions significantly reduce drug use and violence due to the peace agreements established with the inmates (at IPPS there were no deaths or rebellions during the eight months of the Environmental Education, Ethics and Citizenship Course, while before, there were 26 per month) and improve the living conditions inside the prison as well as the relationship between inmates and penitentiary agents. Administrators of the criminal units have come to value the implementation of changes and have adopted participatory methods for preparing their action plans.

NAAVIS´ work is being replicated in other cities of the State of Ceará and also in other four Brazilian states (Paraíba, Bahia, Paraná and Brasília), thanks to help from partner organizations and their networks—among which Terra da Sabedoria (a consortium of citizen sector organizations), the NÓS Network (North/Northeast Network of Social Inclusion) and Brazil Jr. (Brazilian Confederation of Junior Enterprises)—as well as members of the District Attorney’s office, penitentiary agents, and former inmates from the penal system who see the difference in former inmates who leave with a spectrum of abilities. In the future, André intends to increase the amount of multipliers in the process, enabling broader and quicker replication. His medium-term goal is to assume the entire management of a prison.


André had closer contact with the criminal world during his adolescence in the peripheral areas of Fortaleza when he discovered that some of his friends had become involved with drugs. From then he started to think about what he could do to recover these and other youths in the same condition. After finishing high school, he became the youngest penitentiary agent of Ceará.

At IPPS, André closely observed the overcrowded and violent conditions of the penitentiary system, which resulted in frequent rebellions and many deaths. His efforts to change this reality began with colleagues from the Union of Penitentiary Agents, where he first came in touch with the “anti-prisoner culture,” but he remained persistent and was chosen as the Ceará delegate for the National Forum of the Penitentiary System.

During this time, André began to develop a cooperative methodology in consulting services (in which each client helped two other people and demonstrated the results), while he voluntarily practiced social initiatives with the inmates. Shortly afterwards, he began to work with the public and with the management of IPPS to adapt this methodology for the penitentiary system. He soon concluded that capacity building for all was the key, and for this to happen there had to be a peace agreement for the duration of the courses. From this experience, he learned to transform anguish into proactive action and also started to notice the great cultural potential that empowerment brought out in the prison population.

André began to involve other organizations for the benefit of this population and to establish NAAVIS in order to work with the penitentiary system with more freedom of action. In 2003, he ceased to be a penitentiary agent and became fully dedicated to the work at NAAVIS.