At the invitation of the local Justice and Peace Commission, Jan De Cock spent the month of April 2005 voluntarily in the prison of Butembo, North Kivu, Congo . He describes his experiences there in his book entitled The Cellars of Congo .
After his stint in Butembo, he also paid a visit to the prison in Beni , and the shock could not have been greater, for conditions there far worse than even in Butembo.
The building dated from 1948 and was now in an advanced state of dilapidation. Some two hundred detainees, both men and women, were locked up in cells with hardly any light. The toilets were blocked and there was no running water. Activities aimed at rehabilitation were noticeable by their absence. Together with the Justice and Peace Commission of the local dioceses, Jan and the Within-Without-Walls non-profit association took the initiative to build a new, more humane prison.
The project has also received the support of Rejusco (Restauration de la Justice à l'Est de la RDC ). The prison opened in December 2008.
Recent photo of the exterior of the prison
At the end of February 2007, Jan spent a few days in this prison in order to experience this “alternative system” from the inside.
APAC prisons (Association for the Protection and Assistance of the Convicted) originated in Brazil , where in 1972 Dr Mario Ottoboni, as a Christian and a lawyer, took up the cause of detainees. At present there are some 130 APAC prisons spread across 12 Brazilian states, and several Latin American countries as well as the United States have taken up the initiative. Detainees are referred to as ‘ recuperandos' , that is, 'people in the process of rehabilitation', in emotional, psychological as well as social and spiritual terms. Health, education, self-respect... these are the main pillars of the process. Work, family and volunteers also play an important role. The responsibility entrusted to the recuperandos shows that trust is the cornerstone, right down to the way that they are allowed to handle the keys themselves. They are in effect responsible for their own security. Not only is the cost of such prisons is extremely low, but escapes are extremely rare. Where in the regular Brazilian prison system, the recidivism rate is more than 80%, the APAC method has managed to reduce that to less than 5%. According to Mario Ottoboni, APAC is a way of evangelisation and the promotion of human values that rehabilitates the human being, protects society and supports the judicial system.