The Penal system of Japan (including prisons) is part of the criminal justice system of Japan. It is intended to resocialize, reform, and rehabilitate offenders. The penal system is operated by the Correction Bureau of the Ministry of Justice.
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On confinement, prisoners are first classified according to gender, nationality, type of penalty, length of sentence, degree of criminality, and state of physical and mental health. They are then placed in special programs designed to treat their individual needs.
Vocational and formal education are emphasized, as is instruction in social values. Most convicts engage in labor, for which a small stipend is set aside for use on release. Under a system stressing incentives, prisoners are initially assigned to community cells, then earn better quarters and additional privileges based on their good behavior.
The Correctional Bureau of the Ministry of Justice administers the adult prison system as well as the juvenile correctional system and three women's guidance homes (to rehabilitate prostitutes). The ministry's Rehabilitation Bureau operates the probation and parole systems. Prison personnel are trained at an institute in Tokyo and in branch training institutes in each of the eight regional correctional headquarters under the Correctional Bureau. Professional probation officers study at the Legal Training and Research Institute of the Ministry.
In 1990 Japan's prison population stood at somewhat less than 47,000; nearly 7,000 were in short-term detention centers, and the remaining 40,000 were in prisons. Approximately 46 percent were repeat offenders. Japanese recidivism was attributed mainly to the discretionary powers of police, prosecutors, and courts and to the tendency to seek alternative sentences for first offenders. By 2001 The overall prison population rose to 61,242 or 48 prisoners per 100,000. By of the end of 2009, the prison population had yet again risen to 75,250, or 59 prisoners per 100,000. One reason for the rise is a large increase in the number of elderly being convicted of crimes, with loneliness being cited as a major factor.
Although a few juvenile offenders are handled under the general penal system, most are treated in separate juvenile training schools. More lenient than the penal institutions, these facilities provide correctional education and regular schooling for delinquents under the age of twenty. More adults are in prison than child delinquents, mainly because of the low crime rate.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the government's responsibility for social order does not end with imprisoning an offender, but also extends to aftercare treatment and to noninstitutional treatment to substitute for or supplement prison terms.
A large number of those given suspended sentences are released to the supervision of volunteer officers under the guidance of professional probation officers. Adults are usually placed on probation for a fixed period, and juveniles are placed on probation until they reach the age of twenty.
Volunteers are also used in supervising parolees, although professional probation officers generally supervise offenders considered to have a high risk of recidivism. Volunteers hail from all walks of life and handle no more than five cases at one time. They are responsible for overseeing the offenders' conduct to prevent the occurrence of further offenses. Volunteer probation officers also offer guidance and assistance to the ex-convict in assuming a law-abiding place in the community.
Although volunteers are sometimes criticized for being too old compared with their charges (more than 70 percent are retired and are age fifty-five or over) and thus unable to understand the problems their charges faced, most authorities believe that the volunteers are critically important in the nation's criminal justice system.
Amnesty International has cited Japan for abuse of inmates by guards for infractions of prison rules. This abuse is in the form of beatings, solitary confinement, overcrowding, or "minor solitary confinement" (keiheikin), which forces inmates to be interned in tiny cells kneeling or crossed legged, and restrained with handcuffs for prolonged periods of time.
In 2003, Justice Ministry formed a special team to investigate 1,566 prisoner deaths from 1993 to 2002. A preliminary report suggested that nearly one-third of the cases involved suspicious circumstances. However, in June, the Ministry announced that there was evidence of abuse only in the two Nagoya fatalities. Regarding the other suspicious deaths, the Ministry said that approximately 10 deaths could be attributed to poor medical care. The authorities reported they had lost the documentation on nine deaths in Tokyo's Fuchu Prison. The remaining deaths were determined to be "not suspicious."
In the wake of prison abuses, the "Law Concerning Penal Institutions and the Treatment of Sentenced Inmates" came into effect on June 7, 2007, to reform treatment on prisoners, such as "the expansion of prisoners' contacts with the outside world, the establishment of independent committees to inspect prisons, and the improvement of the complaints mechanisms." However, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) expressed concerns in 2010 about revalidating unlimited solitary confinements (along with newer types of handcuffs for such inmates), not providing medical care for inmates under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, and mental and physical effects of confinement for death row inmates.
In the article “’Prison Libraries’ in Japan: The Current Situation of Access to Books and Reading in Correctional Institutions” Kenichi Nakane talks about another form of prisoner neglect/abuse. Nakane's article finds that there is a severe lack of reading materials available to people who are incarcerated in Japanese correctional facilities. The author Kenichi Nakane uses the term “Prison Library” because there are no professionally ran libraries inside of any of the correctional facilities. Nakane finds that incarcerated persons only can only get books, newspapers, and magazines by buying them and/or getting them as gifts. Nakane found that occasionally a limited number of reading materials are supplied, but they are out dated and inadequate. Nakane also finds the lack of reading material and availability of information in these incarceration facilities to be hindering some of the rights of the incarcerated individuals. To further investigate this problem, Kenichi Nakane traveled to twenty-six prisons in American and seven prisons in the United Kingdom and found that the availability of books, and information to incarcerated individuals in Japan.
Japanese "penal institutions" include prisons for sentenced adults, juvenile detention centers for sentenced juveniles, and detention houses for pre-trial inmates.
Private Finance Initiative (PFI) prisons are maintained with private management. PFI prisons, which are for sentenced inmates with low criminal tendencies, include:
The logo of the Correction Bureau includes three "C"s. One stands for Challenge, one for Change, and one for Cooperate.