The Alternatives to Violence Project focuses much of its efforts on one of the most violence-prone groups in our society: prison inmates. AVP began in 1975 at Green Haven Prison in New York State in response to violence at Attica Prison. A group of inmates requested help from Quakers who had a prison ministry there to develop a workshop to help reduce violence among the younger prisoners. In turn, the Quakers invited assistance from people who had trained the followers of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in strategies of nonviolence.
Since its inception, the program has grown and spread to many other locations. In 2013, 814 prison workshops were conducted in 93 different correctional facilities in 29 states. A total of 12,607 inmates participated, and more than 1,100 of them trained to become AVP facilitators in the future (2013 AVP-USA Annual Report).
Because violence is everywhere in society, not only in prisons, AVP workshops are also offered extensively in communities and schools. In 2013, 170 community workshops were conducted at churches, schools, community associations, halfway houses, shelters, and other locations across the U.S.
AVP also operates internationally, with programs in 50 countries including Canada, Mexico, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Central and South America, the Caribbean islands, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Russia, 12 countries in Africa, India, Nepal, Indonesia, and Japan.
In New Jersey, AVP operates at two correctional facilities – Garden State Youth Correctional Facility and Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women – and offers community workshops as requested. In 2013, AVP-NJ conducted 12 prison workshops and 2 community workshops, with 199 inmates and 30 community residents taking part. Every year, prisoners and community residents complete facilitator training and begin working as apprentices on teams with experienced workshop trainers.
The transformation created by AVP is remarkable. Incarcerated people who have taken AVP workshops have lower rates of confrontations and improved anger management. Community participants have discovered positive new ways of maintaining healthy relationships and dealing with conflict in their lives.