Venezuelan national government institutions were impressed with Project Alcatraz’s effectiveness in countering rates of unemployment and murder, and have now discussed a national roll out, starting with the capital.
In its first five years of operation in Revenga, Santa Teresa’s home county, the project saw crime drop by 40% and murders reduce by 65% from 77 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2003 to 27 in 2008.
Gang members are recruited for a two-year period of rehabilitation, with the aim of “eradicating delinquency without violence”.
Recruits to the project undergo programmes of labour, education, rugby training and community service, before enrolling on classes that range from cooking and house building, to working for the distillery.
The Santa Teresa Foundation, a non-governmental body established by head of Santa Teresa, Alberto Vollmer, originally created the project in response to a growing climate of crime, and in particular, an armed attack on a staff member.
Vollmer said: ”It was an issue of turning a crisis into an opportunity.”
The perpetrators of the attack were offered the chance to become unpaid labourers at Santa Teresa, rather than serving a prison sentence.
In the months that followed, further gang members applied to the project and soon a peace agreement between the area’s main gangs was reached.
Vollmer said: “The viability and profitability of Santa Teresa is dependent not only on our ability to produce a product of exceptional quality, but also on our ability to generate growth and wellbeing in the surrounding community.”
The project received international recognition last year when it won the Beyond Sport Award for social inclusion in London – a ceremony hosted by global management consultancy Accenture.