Japan's Correction Bureau.

AuthorHill, Gary

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...

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