Judge Santos Unveils the Potential of the APAC Methodology Worldwide

We share an interview by Simonetta d'Italia Wiener, Program Coordinator for the Restorative Freedom Initiative, with Judge Luiz Carlos Rezende e Santos, head of the court overseeing sentence execution in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, who shares his profound insights into the APAC methodology and its potential adaptation in the United States.

Judge Luiz Carlos Rezende e Santo is currently head of the court that oversees the execution of sentences in Belo Horizonte and a member of the Council of Criminology and Criminal Policy of Minas Gerais. He worked in the districts of Prados, Lagoa da Prata, and Belo Horizonte, in addition to advising the Presidency of TJMG in four terms. He also held other roles at the Court of Justice and the National Council of Justice.

Photo of Judge Luiz Carlos Rezende e Santos // Credit: Alexandre B Coelho

Judge Luiz Carlos Rezende e Santos (JLCRS): I’ve been a criminal judge for 21 years in the state of Minas Gerais. When I was 28 years old, I visited my first prison. I was terrified when I got there and found a stinking and inhuman place, a strange environment, which seemed normal to everyone, even the prisoners, except for me, who had never been there. I was always astonished by their situation. One day there was a riot at the prison, and I used to think that being a judge meant keeping my work in order, but that riot made me realize my work was in order, but all those people were completely abandoned. I realized then that I needed to do something because, otherwise, all the work I was doing was meaningless. That’s when someone told me I needed to get to know APAC. I visited APAC in 2004, right in the beginning of the year, to find out what was going on there. In the beginning, I was kind of shocked because I thought it wasn’t real, that it was staged, something that couldn’t exist. Little by little, I started studying their methodology, visiting the place, and I convinced myself that it was possible to build a place like APAC. The second step was to convince the community where I was working, starting with the police, then politicians, and finally the neighbors. In 2008, APAC was built and began operating, and it has been growing since then. That’s how my relationship with APAC began, in trying to find answers to my distress as a judge.


Simonetta d’Italia Wiener (SDW): What was the reaction of your colleagues in regard to your association with APAC?


JLCRS: Some of my colleagues liked APAC because they thought it was a good solution to create more room in the prison system because more people needed to be locked up. Other colleagues didn’t want to hear about APAC, under any circumstances because they thought it was something that made the life of those criminals easier. Others decided to study the methodology and embraced the cause. This is something I still see, not only in Minas Gerais, where the majority of the APAC’s are built but all over Brazil, that is the prejudice, the natural disbelief that exists towards any new methodology that aims to change the traditional prison system. Today, especially in Brazil, but also in most parts of the world, people are really hungry for justice, for heavy punishment. But few see the opportunity for those who committed the crime to transform themselves, to rehabilitation, to be able to want something else, to get to know a different world. We need to at least give them this opportunity, and that’s what I tell my colleagues, and I tell the story of many cases of success where, surprisingly, people who no one had any hope for became good and useful people.

APAC Alem in Brazil // Credit: Antonello Veneri, 2016.

SDW: What’s the most vital aspect within the APAC method?


JLCRS: Well, APAC’s methodology comprises 12 elements and without a doubt, the most important is valuing the dignity of the human people. All the other elements are based on that. But I’d say that, to my fellow judge friends, both new and experienced, what is most important is to end the prejudice, the preconception we have in our heads about the people who are deprived of their freedom, the preconception that they are monsters.

SDW: Judges and prosecutors in the United States are famously detached from the communities most affected by incarceration because they avoid all interaction. What made you want to see prisoners as humans and not monsters?


JLCRS: In Brazil, sentences are carried out by the prison administration that operates the prisons. The judge supervises the administration, and if necessary takes measures to correct them. The judge remains involved in the criminal case determining eligibility for rehabilitative opportunities, such as work release. And so, it is impossible for the Judge not to live within the prison environment, and in some way with the prisoner himself and his family. These factors, the prison environment and family life, are very important in trying to rebuild the prisoner’s life, his professional training, and future job opportunities when he leaves prison. Therefore, the Judge who oversees the sentence must bear in mind that the penalty for the crime committed has already been applied, and his responsibility is to monitor the rehabilitative nature of the inmate’s time in prison. By doing so, the judge overseeing the sentence is as far removed as possible from the facts that led to that conviction. This reduces prejudice against criminals, and increases respect for human beings serving their sentences.

APAC Alem in Brazil // Credit: Antonello Veneri, 2016.

SDW: What comes to your mind when you think about APAC?


JLCRS: When I think about APAC, the first thing that comes to mind is the image of a recuperando together with their family. That is what moves me. Every time I think about APAC, I see a recuperando hugging their mother, hugging their children, the thought that I’m looking at someone who really wants to change. That look of hope people have when they are in that hopeful environment. I believe that what comes to mind is a hunger for love that can be found within APAC, and that only within APAC’s methodology people are able to find themselves. Finally, APAC is always open to adding new elements, to new developments and improvements.

Is it possible to bring apac to the Usa?

SDW: Can APAC’s methodology be implemented in the USA?

APAC's methodology can be implemented anywhere in the world, and that's because of a simple reason: we are dealing with human beings. What the legislators want is for their punishment to achieve its goal, which is retributive and above all, re-socializing, to allow that person to coexist with others again. I can't think of anywhere in the world where someone doesn't want to see a criminal becoming a person who’s useful to society again.

SDW: You made the beautiful comment that, ‘I can’t think of anywhere in the world where someone doesn’t want to see a criminal becoming a person who’s useful to society again.’ In the United States, judges and many lawyers do not believe that certain people can become useful to society, so they do not arrive at the point of wanting to see whether those people can change. They have no hope that it can happen. What can give legal professionals such hope?


JLCRS: I think I can’t help but see myself in their condition. I have not yet met a prisoner who has no love. Even for a son, a mother, a grandmother, a friend. This makes me think that I, my son, or my brother could be in that criminal’s condition. And so, looking at my mistakes, perhaps visible only to me, I see that I can change, not make the same mistakes again. Putting myself in the condition of the judge who oversees the sentence teaches me as much as putting myself in the condition of the victim. It remains to be seen what society expects from the Judge. I believe that the victim wants the Judge to act with dignity, respect, and to believe in those who serve their sentences as capable of one day becoming a useful citizen. I think this should move legal professionals who deal with this topic.

APAC Alem in Brazil // Credit: Antonello Veneri, 2016.

Why does this matter?

Judge Luiz Carlos Rezende e Santos’s insights offer invaluable perspectives on the transformative potential of the APAC methodology and the universal principles of restorative justice. As we continue our journey with the Restorative Freedom Initiative, let his words inspire us to believe that change in the criminal system is possible anywhere because we are human, and we all desire love.