Alberto Vollmer

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow since 2015
This description of Alberto Vollmer's work was prepared when Alberto Vollmer was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2015 .


Alberto created a model of values transformation through education, changing behavior patterns, transforming criminal gangs into agents of change, and involving the community and family as part of this social reintegration program. He capitalizes negative and violent leadership often existing in criminals and transforms it into a modeler leadership.

The New Idea

The vast majority of people in vulnerable situations live in violent environments, lacking of access to education or work, with broken families and single mothers as heads of households. These features are the ideal broth to generate poverty, insecurity and a low associative capacity. The absence of a supporting environment also facilitates drug trafficking and other destructive activities.
Alberto’s model is based not on the young individuals, but in the entire criminal group where they belong, and he penetrates into the entire system surrounding criminals of a particular sector. This powerfully changes the dynamic, especially because his actions rest on a model of trust, loyalty and values. It is all about capitalizing the leadership capabilities of criminals. Alberto does not only support them, but he trains them to develop their entrepreneurial skills. He brings hope and provides a new way of articulating into the community as agents of change for people with criminal records.
His model has an impact on the community. Alberto developed a broader attention when he realized that transforming criminal gangs was not enough, but it was necessary to go to the communities and families and to provide opportunities to create positive environments for these gangs to make a living out of crime and to reintegrate as positive actors and agents of change. In 2010, his prevention methodology is systematized - many of the young people who make up the band had not paid penalty 'imprisonment yet-. In 2012, he reformulated his methodology Alcatraz 2.0 and involved the community and families
He is currently evaluating and adjusting his strategy to start replicating elsewhere in the country, because it has been requested by several governorships.
Alberto impacts the justice system by involving both: the community and the local government, the ONA (National Drug Organization), other institutions of justice and municipal police where he acts to solve together the problems of gang violence. It differs from other initiatives, addressing the problem from prevention within communities, with an innovative approach to most of the traditional post-prison programs. Additionally, he forms and influences the justice system through the Certified Curse in Restorative Justice.
The idea came after Alberto was assaulted in his company by members of a criminal gang. When they were captured, instead of handing them over to the police, Alberto asked them to work to correct their fault. Then he invited the rest of the band to join them and then their enemy band until he managed to make peace between these two bands that had spent years killing each other. From that moment, many bands asked to be incorporated into the project. Alcatraz project has been a cathartic way for social community.

The Problem

The problem of violence and insecurity in Venezuela is complex; the public system of preventive policies against crime, as well as the justice system are ineffective and corrupt and are also supported by an inadequate and outdated set of laws. This is aggravated by an overcrowded prison system that has not received adequate investment in 40 years. As an example, Aragua’s penitentiary called "Tocorón", a prison designed for 750 prisoners, has more than 10,000 prisoners by this date. Finally, there is the police system, which by the time of its reform in 2011 was absolutely corrupt, outdated, and it openly violated human rights (and still does). Since reform there have been significant improvements in certain aspects, but there is no way to have effectiveness if the rest of the system is not working.
Venezuela has a matriarchal social system, and all the household responsibilities fall on single mothers. Most of these young people, who turn to crime, come from disjointed homes, with no father, brothers from different fathers, and mothers who engage in prostitution or drug trafficking retail. These disrupted families therefore generate a drug and violence environment.
The lack of formal education or a training that encourages the construction and pursuit of hope and dreams, and the development of long-term plans; contributes to limiting the aspirations of these young people who only follow the "successful" role models of television programs usually represented as criminals. It is highlighted the lack of truly successful role models based on values, long-term vision and personal effort.
The population addressed by Alberto is found in communities characterized by criminal gangs that typically operate in a sector of a neighborhood. Can be a specific sector or a place limited by a watercourse, often obeying topographic factors, and the sectors under control one of those bands typically have populations between 2000 and 4000 inhabitants. Alberto’s project operates in the Revenga municipality, positively affecting a population of about 55mil inhabitants.
• Criminal gangs: from 5 members, up to 40 members.
• Family of band members: The project generally deals with a single representative -in the project he or she is called Safe Base-for each band member.
• Base Communities: generally between 2000 and 4000 inhabitants. Are the sectors in which the band operates.
• Community Councils: typically about 10 members, but can vary to more or less.
The violence situation in Venezuela is taking new victims such as police officers, National Guards, escort officers who are being murdered to obtain their weapons, as well as important leaders as Deputies of the National Congress and local government officials.

The Strategy

Through the Santa Teresa Foundation, created in 2000, the Alcatraz Project born in 2003. However, the Alcatraz method in 2012 began its Phase 2.0, to involve the community and family, beginning in process of choosing the band to be recruited, then a basic training in values to the band members, to the family representatives chosen by gang members to represent them, and community representatives. Finally, in the first stage, they proceed to select a community leader and three facilitators, also from the community. This is chosen during a Citizens Assembly, where notes are taken with members of the community.
The central idea of Alcatraz Project to address insecurity is the Restorative Justice which is then broken down into multiple complementary stages. Restorative Justice consists in encouraging offenders to correct the damage they have committed through mid-forgiveness processes where victims may impose a mean of compensation for the damage.
From that moment begins the series of activities of Alcatraz Project. First, each band member must meet a transparency process, entering an isolation phase where they receive formal education, values training, psychological treatment, sports training (Rugby), and work training, among others. After the isolation, phase begins the reintegration phase in which they spend seven months doing community work in the community where they committed most of their crimes. At this stage, they should make the most of the restorative justice processes and serve their community (painting schools, teaching sports, cleaning the streets, etc). The last step is a year of vocational training, where many of them get a job or an internship and are taught how to start their micro-enterprise. Upon completion of this final stage they are out of Alcatraz Project and they should have gotten a formal job or developed a micro-enterprise.
Alberto focuses on developing values for communities, through Rugby, as an educating tool (over 2000 youth in the Revenga municipality) and transformation of behavior patterns. He also supports the orchestra system of the municipality providing them with headquarters, instruments and other supplies. He replicates his values through municipal schools by a training Pensum: Aprendiendo a amar (Learning to love). Together with the governor of Aragua, a complementary program called Casas Blancas(White Houses) is set for the development of the Juan Moreno 1, 2 and 3 neighborhoods, to transform them into tourist destinations based on the model of the Mediterranean people, so their inhabitants have equal opportunities of development. Alberto directs the strategic plan of the Revenga Municipality.
With the Alcatraz Program of recruitment, rehabilitation and reintegration of criminals bands in the Revenga Municipality and surrounding municipalities, the homicide rate has reduced from 114 for each 100.000 in habitants in 2003 to less than 10 each 100.000 inhabitants in 2014 (Aragua Police numbers).
When starting the project in 2003, there were at least 500 young people involved in gangs, and at least 100 of them were homicides. Since then, Alcatraz Project has rehabilitated and reinserted about 200 of these young people, of which about 50 were murderers. There is a side-effect, which is that by rehabilitating these criminal leaders, the message to the bands that have not yet been recruited expands and stimulates their own initiative to reduce their violent activities, also improving their communities.
Alberto tells his experience with the "Piche" who entered a criminal gang at 11 years old when he killed his first victim, and the person killed was a neighborhood menace. Then he entered the criminal life without even realizing it. Gradually he grew into the most feared assassin in the region. He never used drugs or alcohol and was recognized as a "gentleman" and a man of his word, but he was sought by all state security departments to eliminate him. Shortly, the Alcatraz Project p managed to turn the negative leadership into a positive leadership. The level of influence that he has today would never have been achieved by anybody else in that zone and he is already making a direct positive impact on the thinking of the criminal networks of Aragua, Caracas and other regions of Venezuela. Thanks to his influence in several criminal leaders a truce was reached in crimes nearly a year ago in the eastern axis of Aragua.
In 2010 with the help of the Accenture consultancy, all processes and threads in the program were evaluated, refined and documented, thanks to a Social Inclusion award from the Beyond Sport organization. A replicability manual that has been used for the expansion of the project was obtained. To grow geographically, a principle of concentric circles is used, and it seeks to eradicate all homicides in the municipality Revenga and thus serve as a showcase of the methodology. For this reason, it is that many people have visited him, from both public and private sector, criminal world and other countries.
In 2010 with the support of the European Community and the United Nations, a Certified Curse and a Restorative Justice Observatory were created, involving officials of the Prosecutor, judges, public defenders, criminal leaders, officials of Aragua State Police, Scientific Police (CICCP), leaders of community councils, schools teachers, prison directors, community members, etc. While there has been no explicit mention of a change in public policies regarding the management of insecurity in Venezuela, Alberto’s participation in the Commission for Police Reform and recent changes in the way the state has addressed the issue of the insecurity, changes incorporated by the government in processes to reduce violence and crime. He has involved the governor of Aragua state, who was formerly Minister of Interior and Justice and graduated as a criminologist at the University of Los Andes.
Alberto plans to achieve success by reducing directly homicide and crime rates, thereby improving the associative capacity of the communities benefited by the project.
Alberto hopes that in 2020 Alcatraz Project has structurally changed the security policy. At that time he imagines a policy which attacks the causes of insecurity originated at home; from promoting values as part of state policy, and incorporation of communities as sources of information and prevention. He hopes that philosophy permeates police, prisons, justice system and laws. His vision over the next 10 years is to create a movement where criminal’s leadership are capitalized and transformed from violent leadership into exemplary leadership; through the recruitment of criminal gangs per year - with emphasis on those that generate the highest number of murders per year.

The Person

Alberto, is the 4th born of seven brothers. He was an independent child who lived in an old farm in contact with nature. When 5 years old, his dog was his companion, and at 6 years his brother Leopold was born with a neuropathy, and his mother dedicated herself to stimulate him with a program that required daily tasks of stimulation; the whole family was involved in those exercises to teach him how to breathe, etc. He lived to be 14 years old, having overcome some of his disabilities, learning to see, hear and communicate with noise; all thanks to his family’s faith and dedication. Alberto helped in his brother’s stimulation program as necessary: he carried him, help with crawling and breathing exercises, reading poetry and supported his mother in everything necessary. At age of 12 he went to a military college in Pennsylvania, and was there for two years learning a lot, but above all he learned not to take anything for granted and to appreciate what he has, because he felt stripped of all the luxuries and privileges, freedom, his home and comfort space and had to adapt to an environment where he had to learn to defend himself, and strengthened to grow internally and to overcome obstacles; he also learned perseverance and management of the complexities in the hierarchical military environment.
Alberto studied civil engineering and when he was 21 years old, he volunteered in a neighborhood to teach reading and sports. Then, to help a priest with his community in the Carapita neighborhood, he decided to help in the expansion and construction of a library. Following a confrontation between criminal gangs and a drug dealer who was moving into the house next door to the library, Alberto decided to raise funds for the priest to buy this property and to avoid future scenarios of violence. In the complex he founded a workshop of alternative construction for 4 years and he was involved in the administration and management of both the library and the workshop. Alberto moved and lived 1 year in the Bicentenario neighborhood of Carapita. This experience helped him to understand and work with people with behavioral problems and to learn their language. Alberto recalls witnessing the death of 4 youngsters by gunfire while working together in the library. He was unhurt and that marked him deeply to devote his life to rescue young people from violence.
Then Alberto had to attend his family business called Ron Santa Teresa – a Rum factory located on a farm surrounded by poor communities. One of the first problem she had to deal with the community was the invasion of a portion of the farm by 500 families; the invasion was turned into a housing development for invasive families, with state funding and with the help of the invaders. This first experience and the Venezuelan context, led him to redirect the strategy of the company where social transformation initiatives are part of the corporate strategy. However, Alberto wanted to go further seeking to develop an economic activity for nearby communities based on tourism. Supported by tourism in the Hacienda Santa Teresa, Alberto sees a dynamic economic future in the municipality tourism, where Alcatraz Project stands out among the social projects, but also opens a path to generate associative capacity and giving a stamp to his social work and transcends to the community’s transformation towards its well being, as he has always dreamed.