Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Alternatives to Violence (AVP) in British Prisons

AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project) began as a Quaker initiative in prisons in New York. In 1990 AVP started working in the UK, with support from Friends House, in London. In 1997 it became an independent organisation, AVP Britain, but there is still much Quaker involvement.

The experiential workshops run in prisons represent the belief that people can transform their capacity to handle situations that in the past would have resulted in violence. They help prisoners to build confidence, self esteem and trust.  The workshops develop skills of communication and cooperation, helping participants find ways of dealing with difficult situations without resorting to verbal or physical violence.

Workshops last for three days and involve participatory exercises leading to the development of a sense of confidence in each person to begin to manage their violence in a more socially acceptable way.The sense of community that workshops develop is an important experience of hope for increasing numbers of prisoners.

This has been particularly effective in the UK context in reducing violence on prison wings.  It has also empowered prisoners to improve their relationships and change their behaviour on release. Former prisoners also have access to AVP support.  Workshops are  available in the community across the UK so AVP is able to provide opportunities for resettlement and support beyond prison life through its network of local groups.

Prison staff are very positive about the impact of AVP in British prisons:
  • After an AVP workshop prisoners are enthusiastic about skills and the experience of fellowship.  They realise they have the capacity to manage situations much better than they thought in the past (Tim Newell, Former Governor)
  • I have seen a real change in many of the men who have undertaken the project.  It seems to give them better understanding of self and an ability to help other people deal with issues and problems.  The AVP programme fits well with accredited offending behaviour courses and offers opportunities for participants to practise and develop skills taught on accredited thinking skills programmes.  The AVP programme has been a major contributor to the success of HMP Wymott and its rebuilding in the past few years (Jon Parkin, Governor, HMP Wymott)
  • It is very encouraging to see what prisoners think of the AVP project, the benefits they receive and how it is helping them to change their attitudes and behaviour.  This is one area of offending behaviour work that we need to explore further…(Ray Doughty, Prison Service Area Manager)

Participants also make many positive comments:
  • I have been in prison 17 years, and have completed all the different programmes available and AVP is the only one that has created a change in me.
  • Before I went to AVP I felt that it was going to do nothing for me…it was just going to make me worse, but when I got there I felt that this might just do something for me and it DID.  I don’t get angry anymore…I sit down and talk about the problem and it is so much easier and that was because of AVP…
  • During my three day workshop I discovered that violence can be in us all – it need not be physical; that a vitriolic tongue can often have the same effect as a well placed punch and both can leave a mark on another.

Some participants go on to become AVP facilitators themselves, while still in prison, and find it a challenging but very rewarding experience.

LEAP Confronting Conflict (based in London) provides similar structured experiences, particularly for young offenders, with much success.

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Further Reading and Credits

External links Further reading
  • AVP Britain - Prisons Project Information Pack