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Japan's Correction Bureau.

In his book, MacArthur's Japanese Constitution: A Linguistic and Cultural Study of its Making, Kyoko Inoue reminds us that Gen. Douglas MacArthur presented the Japanese government with a constitution for its use in February 1948. The constitution was written by MacArthur's staff in 10 days. The text, however, which conforms to the political and cultural traditions of the U.S., was translated by the Japanese with an eye toward the country's traditional values. The "Western" approach to criminal justice is heavily linked to punishment, due in part to the influence of Christianity--which features a God who punishes sinners--on its legal traditions. Japanese gods, on the other hand, did not punish people for committing wrong acts, observed Alex Farrell in his 2009 commentary, "Western Justice and Oriental Order." In Japanese culture, "punishment of the individual does not rectify a disturbance of the natural order," Farrell quotes George Sansom in his 1963 A History of Japan. Farrell provides several examples culled from his own observations living in Japan to illustrate how this cultural belief influences civil order. One such example involved foreign visitors who were assaulted by Japanese youths. When the visitors pointed the youths out to the police, they were told to accept an apology from the offenders--thus closing the matter. That philosophy is reflected to a great extent in the Japanese correctional system.


Japan's original Prison Law and Penal Code came into effect in 1908 and was considered innovative because the law stipulated the supplies to be given to inmates; hygiene and medical care; and provisions for the education of sentenced inmates. After World War II, Japan enacted a new constitution and revamped the Prison Law to reflect international correctional theory that emphasized correctional treatment and reentry into society. New proposals also stipulated the rights and obligations of the inmates, but opposition delayed the passage of the legislation and it was, in fact, defeated in the Diet (Japan's bicameral legislature) three times between 1982 and 2002.

In 2003, following publicity on the death and injury of a number of sentenced inmates in Nagoya Prison, the Ministry of Justice established the Correctional Administration Reform Council composed of private experts. In December of that year, the recommendations of the council were released, and as a result the Penal Code was revised and went into effect on May 24, 2006. The code was again revised the following year to take into account remand inmates, and on June 1, 2007, the Act on Penal and Detention Facilities and the Treatment of Inmates and Detainees took effect.


Administratively, the Correction Bureau is one of seven major divisions under Japan's Ministry of Justice. At the end of 2008, Japan's population was 127.7 million, 80,523 of whom were incarcerated, which gave the country a relatively low prison population rate of 63 per 100,000. Pretrial detainees make up 10.5 percent of the incarcerated population, females comprise 7 percent and foreign inmates comprise 7.6 percent of the prison population. The official capacity of the prison system is 72, 182, which puts it at 106 percent of design capacity.

In Japan, the term "penal institutions" includes both adult and juvenile prisons for sentenced offenders, while "detention" houses are mainly for unsentenced inmates who are awaiting trial. As of January 2008, there were 187 facilities: 60 prisons, eight juvenile prisons, seven detention houses, eight prison branches and 104 branch detention houses, which are smaller facilities that are attached administratively to other prisons or detention houses. Under the direction of the minister of justice, inspectors conduct unannounced inspections of each institution at least once a year. The average daily expense per inmate per day is approximately 1,310 yen ($14.50).

The 18,226 staff members consist of 16,487 prison officers, 864 industry/education specialists, 585 medical personnel and 290 clerical staff. According to Penal Institutions in Japan, (1) the Correction Bureau publicizes "that prison officers make up 90% of the total number of staff. A prison officer, as a correctional officer, has the double duty of engaging in correctional treatment and security at the same time. This feature is unique when compared with the practices of many western countries where security officers and treatment staff are assigned separately." Some nations, including the U.S., have "direct supervision" staff arrangements in which officers are involved in treatment and security. In fact, Japan is not as advanced as some U.S. prisons in terms of the actual involvement of officers in counseling and treatment roles.

Fuchu Prison

Established in 1790, Fuchu Prison is the largest prison in Japan. The facility had been moved twice prior to its placement in Fuchu City in 1924. It has a design capacity of 2,842 and held 2,931 inmates on Sept. 18, 2009. With a staff of 570, Fuchu prison houses Class B Japanese male inmates "with advanced criminal tendencies" and foreign male inmates. Class B inmates are characterized as those with frequent admissions to penal institutions, regardless of the level of offense; involvement with criminal organizations (gangs); repeated substance abuse; and homelessness. Nearly 35 percent of the prison population has gang affiliations, 52 percent has a history of drug abuse, 31 percent has been classified with mental problems and 45 percent has some physical impairment. Eighteen percent of the population is older than 60, the oldest being 86.

Japanese institutions have security levels comparable to the U.S.'s, ranging from full lockup to unlocked rooms, outside work, day leave and furloughs. Fuchu Prison would be considered maximum-security.

Correctional Treatment

The Japanese Prison Act states that "treatment for sentenced inmates should aim at encouraging sentenced inmates to rehabilitate themselves and at fostering their ability to adapt themselves to life in society by arousing their awareness based on their personal attributes and the surrounding environment."

As part of the treatment/rehabilitation program, inmates are obligated to participate in work, rehabilitation programs and academic education. Their normal daily schedule starts with a 6:45 a.m. wake-up and morning roll call. After breakfast, inmates leave for their assigned factory where they work from 8 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. During work hours, 30 minutes is set aside for physical exercise and 40 minutes for lunch. There is no work on Saturday, Sunday or holidays. A second roll call is taken at 4:45 p.m., followed by dinner and leisure time, during which inmates may watch television, listen to the radio, read and write letters. Also during leisure time, or in lieu of factory work, inmates participate in rehabilitation and education programs. Normal meals consist of about 1,100 calories per day of staples (70 percent rice, 30 percent barley) and between 900 and 1,130 calories for side dishes (fish, vegetables, meat). Special meals, if deemed necessary, are available for foreign prisoners to account for differences in customs and religious restrictions. Medical diets are also provided. At 9 p.m., inmates go to bed.

"Relaxation of restriction" in Japanese prisons is a system of gradually relaxing restrictions that control daily life and movement of inmates who obey the rules and orders of the prison. According to prison staff, inmates who are recognized as showing particularly high potential of achieving goals for rehabilitation can be given opportunities to receive treatment at open institutions. Like open institutions in the U.S., these facilities have relaxed security and inmates can move about the facility without a security-staff escort. "Privilege treatment" is used to encourage inmates who show good conduct to work for further improvement. An inmate is evaluated every six months and can earn extra visits and a wider choice of goods that can be purchased in prison.

Within two weeks of admission, an inmate is assessed to establish his or her treatment plan. The assessment covers the cause of crime based on the investigation of the crime and the life history and mental and physical conditions of the inmate. The treatment plan includes appropriate goals of the correctional treatment of the inmate, prison work and rehabilitation programs, and any academic education he or she should undertake. During incarceration, regular checks by staff are conducted to judge the inmate's progress.

Inmates are given an initial orientation at the beginning of their sentence to guide them toward self-motivation in achieving their treatment goals. The orientation also helps them understand prison life, including their sentence, prison regulations, daily routine and treatment programs.


Prison Industries in Japan are generally divided into production (woodwork, printing, metalwork, sewing), maintenance work and operation of the prison (food service, laundry, and building and repairs), and vocational training (auto mechanics, sheeting and painting for automobiles, ceramics, operation of small construction vehicles and office automation). The number and variety of programs offered varies by institution, but Fuchu has all of the industries indicated above. Inmates are assigned to a specific program based on an extensive evaluation. Over the course of a sentence, several evaluations take place that may allow inmates to move programs and treatments as their situation and behavior changes. Inmates engaged in prison industry are paid between $20 and $200 a month. They are usually given the money when they are released, but they may use some of their earnings to purchase books and other items while still in prison. Though not offered at Fuchu, one of the more unique prison vocational training programs in Japan is the "Shonen Hokkai-maru," which is a sea-going training ship where inmates are instructed in all aspects of seamanship.

Rehabilitation programs at all Japanese institutions include guidance in overcoming drug addiction: help in withdrawal from organized crime groups; education in seeing crime from a victim's standpoint; guidance to help prevent re-offending for sex offenders; job assistance; alcohol abuse prevention; and others.

Education programs include extensive libraries containing foreign-language material. Japanese-language courses using video and computer programs are also provided to foreign inmates. Newspapers are posted on boards in the workshops and circulated in the cell blocks. Correspondence courses in computer usage, bookkeeping, proofreading, calligraphy, penmanship and foreign languages are available. Inmates in Fuchu Prison can take an annual examination for a certificate in bookkeeping, abacus, kanji (Chinese characters) and salesmanship. These services are available to all prisoners who are qualified as a result of training or self-study.

Citizens who specialize in law, social welfare and literature are entrusted as volunteer prison visitors to provide inmates with advice and counseling regarding their release planning, cultural education and hobbies such as tanka and haiku (types of Japanese poetry), calligraphy and painting.

Recreation includes both indoor and outdoor activities such as athletic meets, tennis and tug-of-war competitions. On holidays, visiting performers, deejays and videos entertain inmates. Twice a year, there are competitions among inmates in Igo and shogi (both are forms of Japanese chess).

Foreign Inmates

Making up 15.3 percent of Fuchu's inmate population, there are currently 460 foreign inmates speaking 30 languages and from 40 nations. The largest number of foreign inmates come from China (29 percent), followed by Iran (15 percent), Brazil (5.5 percent), Columbia (5 percent), and Russia (3.5 percent). According to prison staff, the prison population is becoming more and more multinational.

Prison staff specializing in foreign languages, along with outside translators, provide both translation and interpretation services to prison officers who communicate with foreign inmates. They are available to help with information on prison life, work, education and for counseling. The International Affairs Division handles communications with foreign missions in Japan and the arrangements for the international transfer of foreign inmates on the basis of the International Transfer of Foreign Prisoners Act.

The Treatment Division has a specialized section for working with foreign inmates. This section is meant to help relieve the natural anxiety of people incarcerated in an unfamiliar culture.

Release From Prison

An active prerelease program exists at Fuchu to help inmates in their re-socialization process as they transition from incarceration to society. An open housing unit, as opposed to the one or multi-person cells in which inmates are normally housed, is available for inmates just prior to release.

Inmates are either released on parole or at the end of their sentence. Seventy percent of Japanese inmates serve their full sentence, while 28 percent leave on parole. Eighty percent of the foreign inmates are paroled and deported. Probation officers from the Kanto Regional Rehabilitation Board are stationed at Fuchu Prison to facilitate the arrangements and services of inmates being released.

Incidence and Discipline

In the five-year period from 2002 through 2006, the last year for which statistics are available, there were seven escapes, no riots or major disturbances, seven inmate assaults on staff, 67 inmate assaults on other inmates and 86 suicides in the population of 80,000 inmates.

A total of 62,000 inmate punishments were recorded in 2006. Of course some of those include more than one punishment for the same offender. Generally punishments are given to inmates for refusing to work, assault against another inmate or other rule violation.

Disciplinary hearings provide the accused inmates with an opportunity to defend themselves, and some members of the penalty commission act as defense counsel for the accused. Inmates can lodge complaints against the decision of the disciplinary punishment though a variety of appeal mechanisms. In all cases, the complaints are kept confidential to prevent retaliation against the inmate. The inmate is informed of the disposition of his complaint and, like all members of the public, can take legal action such as filing a civil or administrative lawsuit or filing complaints or accusations with the public prosecutors offices. In 2006, inmates filed 13,021 total complaints, 286 of which were filed as civil suits and 786 as criminal suits.

Penal Institution Visiting Committee

Following a recommendation of the Correctional Administration Reform Council, a Penal Institution Visiting Committee was established. The committee is composed of a maximum of 10 members appointed by the minister of justice "from among persons of integrity and insight with a passionate interest in the improvement of the administration of penal institutions." The committee visits penal institutions to interview inmates and give its opinions to the wardens. The opinions of the committee and the corrective action taken by the wardens are compiled by the minister of justice and a summary is released to the public.

Private Finance Initiative

In Japan, the Private Finance Initiative is the method of using private capital and expertise in the construction, maintenance and operation of public institutions. Two penal institutions in Japan--the Mine Rehabilitation Program Center in Mine, Yamaguchi; and Shimane Asahi Rehabilitation Program Center in Hamada--are operated through joint cooperation between the public and private sectors using the Private Finance Initiative. The private sector, in these cases, handled the design and construction of the institution as well as parts of the treatment and security operations.

Two other penal institutions, Kitsuregawa Rehabilitation Program Center and Harima Rehabilitation Program Center, were built through state expenditures but are operated by the Private Finance Initiative.

Moving Forward

Since 2003, when poor conditions within the Japanese prison system became a public issue, much has happened. New laws and procedures have been instituted. Transparency was established through a third-party Penal Institution Vision Committee and inmates rights and obligations and the authority of officers was clarified.

Programs and services to help offenders return to the community are varied, extensive and growing. An inmate complaint mechanism is in place that appears both comprehensive and fair. And, the Correction Bureau has research staff who are compiling data to help evaluate the present and institute changes as necessary. The Ministry of Justice is working hard to improve correctional treatment on the basis of the newly enacted laws and is striving to gain wide public understanding and support of its efforts.


(1) Penal Institutions in Japan. 2008. Correction Bureau Ministry of Justice: Tokyo.

Gary Hill is president of CEGA Services Inc., and an international consultant in crime prevention, criminal justice and corrections.
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Title Annotation:International
Author:Hill, Gary
Publication:Corrections Compendium
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Dec 22, 2009
Previous Article:Pre-and post-release services.
Next Article:Beyond Bars: Rejoining Society After Prison.

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