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February 23, 2013

Notable account of "old school" Japanese approach to prisons

This new article appearing in The Economist, headlined "Eastern porridge: Even Japanese criminals are orderly and well-behaved," provides an fascinating international perspective on prison practices.  Here are excerpts:

With its façade of red brick, Chiba prison, just outside Tokyo, looks like a Victorian-era British jail. That is where the similarity ends.  Prisons in Britain are often loud, dirty and violent, but Chiba resembles a somewhat Spartan retirement home for former soldiers. The corridors and the tiny cells are spotless.  Uniformed prisoners shuffle in lockstep behind guards and bow before entering rooms.

The deputy warden, Hiroyuki Shinkai, who once visited British prisons as a UN researcher, was shocked by what he found.  He can still recall his surprise at seeing inmates freely mingling and talking. “Japanese penal philosophy is different,” he explains.  In Japan, talking is banned, except during break-times.  Unpaid work is a duty, not a choice.

Japan incarcerates its citizens at a far lower rate than most developed countries: 55 per 100,000 people compared with 149 in Britain and 716 in America.  The country’s justice ministry can also point to low rates of recidivism.  Yet increasingly the nation’s 188 prisons and detention centres come in for harsh criticism, particularly over their obsession with draconian rules and secrecy (on February 21st the government unexpectedly announced it had hanged three men for murder), and their widespread use of solitary confinement....

Over two-thirds of the inmates of Chiba prison were convicted for crimes that caused death — mainly murder, arson or manslaughter.  Half are serving life sentences and, in Japan, life means life.  The average prisoner is 50.  Many of them have never used a mobile phone or a credit card.  Conjugal visits are banned, so marriages break down.

In the prison workshops, inmates silently make leather shoes and furniture, overseen by a single unarmed guard.  No riot has taken place in a Japanese prison since just after the second world war.  Escapes are rare, and drugs and contraband almost non-existent.  The prison notes that its ratio of one guard to four prisoners is roughly half that in Britain.  Yet no one can recall a violent attack on a staff member.

A landmark report in 1995 by Human Rights Watch, a lobby group, said this remarkable order “is achieved at a very high cost”, including the violation of fundamental human rights and falling far short of international standards.  Europeans and Americans inside Japan’s prison system have developed mental problems.  Yet for Mr Shinkai the differences with the West are a point of pride. “Of course we look too strict to outsiders,” he says. But his inmates, he goes on, all come from Japanese society. For them, it works beautifully.

Students of prison history will know that this account of modern Japanese prisons suggests that they are structured and run in a manner and with a philosophy remarkably similar to the first major American prisons such as Pennsylvania's Eastern State Penitentiary and New York's Auburn Correctional Facility. prison (some history here).

February 23, 2013 at 12:02 PM | Permalink

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"A landmark report in 1995 by Human Rights Watch, a lobby group, said this remarkable order “is achieved at a very high cost”, including the violation of fundamental human rights and falling far short of international standards."

Translation: Letting inmates run wild in a way that produces loud, reeking, filthy, drug-infested, dangerous and violent prisons is better than enforcing rules that create quiet, sanitary, drug-free and violence-free prisons because -- are we ready? -- these slant-eyed Japs are NOWHERE NEAR as advanced as we high-minded and much cuter Europeans.

Just once, I wish these Human Rights types would come out and say what they actually think.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 23, 2013 2:58:59 PM

"Just once, I wish these Human Rights types would come out and say what they actually think."

They don't need to, Bill, when mind readers such as yourself are so plentiful. To you, nobody ever means what they say (unless they agree with you), they "actually think" what you want them to think. Easier to win arguments that way, I suppose.

To the subject of the post, I'd be interested in learning more about how Japan deals with nonviolent property and drug offenses if "two-thirds of the inmates of Chiba prison were convicted for crimes that caused death."

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Feb 23, 2013 4:25:08 PM


Grits --

I'm so glad to know that advocacy groups are so uniformly sincere and straightforward about their agendas.

When druggies say they want a "national conversation," is that what they really want? Of course not. They want legalization. But they'd rather mask it, as least at first, because people have no objection to a "conversation," but lots of objections to widespread drug use.

When DP opponents say they want a "moratorium," is that what they really want? Of course not. They want abolition. But they know abolition doesn't sell (see Prop 34 or any poll), so they want it done piecemeal, without saying what the permanent objective really is.

When gun control types say we need a "long overdue dialogue" about "gun violence," is it dialogue that they really want? Of course not. They want harsher gun control legislation, starting last week.

And when a blogger falsely says that he was subject to an armed attack by the Austin police, what does he really want? It's not accurately to report that episode, since it never happened. What he actually wants is to paint the cops as heartless bad guys, since that serves his longtime narrative.

Sorry if I'm supposed to be fooled by all the bait-and-switch. I'm not. (Neither are you, while we're at it).


Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 23, 2013 5:01:58 PM

Bill:

You are really being petty when you continue to attack GFB, make strawmen and stray off topic. You are too smart to continue to do that. This post topic may have some interesting insight and your blanket attack of HRW does nobody any good. We "all" have narratives. Most police are worthy of respect, but even I recognize the existence of the "Blue Front" and testilying and the mistaken shooting (102 bullet holes?) in a newspaper delivery SUV in the pursuit of Chris Dorner by LAPD. (I know, the defense lies also - so anything goes).

Im with GFB "To the subject of the post, I'd be interested in learning more about how Japan deals with nonviolent property and drug offenses if two-thirds of the inmates of Chiba prison were convicted for crimes that caused death."

We have a right and duty to question those with power over us.

Posted by: albeed | Feb 23, 2013 10:58:08 PM

i agree with albeed those are some very very good questions.

As for how the japanese run their prison system. All i can say is it seems to work for them so good for them!

Maybe we could take a few lessons!

Posted by: rodsmith | Feb 24, 2013 1:03:00 AM

albeed --

"You are really being petty when you continue to attack GFB, make strawmen and stray off topic."

That's odd. I didn't say a single word about Grits until AFTER he attacked me for being a "mind reader." Did you then reproach him for being petty? No? Double standard, albeed?

Grits falsely accused the Austin police of very serious misconduct. He did it publicly and belligerently. While ceaselessly attributing bad motives to others, he breezily excuses himself for this false story as having been merely, uh, "mistaken," then goes right back on offense.

When he apologizes for lying, I will never say another word about it. Until then, I do not agree to be muzzled. (Not that it's the only lie he's told, either).

"...your blanket attack of HRW does nobody any good. We 'all' have narratives."

Then it's hardly a "blanket attack" to point out that HRW has theirs too, now is it?

Lastly, I note that you take no issue with my main point to Grits, to wit, that one hardly need be a mind reader to know that various advocacy groups say one thing when they're actually pushing a different and less appealing agenda. That being the case, Grits's accusation that I'm playing mind reader is, well, "petty," as you might say. Not to mention false.

What he really doesn't like -- and the point both he and you avoid -- is that, because Japanese prisons have serious rules and enforce them, their inmates have a better, safer environment by far than inmates in jails that either don't have or don't enforce such rules.

Do you disagree with that?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 24, 2013 3:39:42 AM

I wonder if things of this nature reduces problems found in some of our prisons regarding those who are convicted of crimes that caused death.

Also, how do countries w/o a death penalty deal with killings in prison. In fact, how often does things of that nature happen in such countries? Do their penal practices limit the chance of that happening vis-a-vis the U.S.?

Posted by: Joe | Feb 24, 2013 8:51:21 AM

There are only 30,000 lawyers for 100 million Japanese, compared to 1.3 million for 300 million Americans. Their criminal justice is as incompetent and as worthless as ours.

So why the low Japanese crime rate?

1) Preservation of the patriarchal Japanese family, and total resistance to feminism.

2) Strong community pressure to conform to rules. For example, bullying is not harassment in Japan. It often results in suicide of the target. No. Bullying in Japan means to be shunned, as in the Amish, another low crime population, with a strong patriarchal family.

3) Frequent use of corporal punishment. The public, parents, teachers, anybody will just beat your ass if you commit a crime. And it will not be prosecuted by the vile, pro-criminal feminist Inquisitor and its male running dogs, seeking the destruction of the Japanese nation. 9/11? Impossible on a Japanese airline. Japanese culture is the same as 1000 years ago. That is why China subsidizes our presence in Asia with those loans. To buffer the Japanese masculine, warrior culture that is an inch below the business man veneer. Lawyering is not part of it.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 24, 2013 9:47:20 AM

Actually, albeed makes Bill's point better than he could himself.

Bill accused so many on the left of using dishonest means to an end. Saying they want A, when they really want B.

Albeed, on cue, then steps in to accuse Bill of pettiness when his real intention is only to protect his comrade from everyone knowing the truth about his "integrity" issues.

Grits has proven repeatedly to be a liar and obfuscator. He lies, gets caught, disappears for a short time, and then returns as if nothing happened. In fact, he reminds me of one of my favorite scripture quotes:

"Like a dog returneth to his vomit, a fool returneth to his folly."

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Feb 24, 2013 11:45:31 AM

TQ:

I did not respond to a previous post in which Bill wondered where you had been and welcomed you back. I see that you saw your shadow that day and decided to come out of hibernation and make a comment (again directly against me and not addressing the posted topic).

I have seen repeatedly that many on this blog attack without dealing with the direct issue. I am doing that now. Sometimes you just have to call a shovel a shovel. It works both ways. I realize that in myself right now. Do you see it in yourself? Talk about vomit!

Posted by: albeed | Feb 24, 2013 2:51:17 PM

now bill be nice!

"Grits falsely accused the Austin police of very serious misconduct. He did it publicly and belligerently."

You have to admit that given Austin PD's current track record and history. It could have been very true. Plus we were not there I'm sure if 50 cops started coming at me after just getting done being harassed by another one. i'd be doing more than calling them names.....

I'd be exercising my Constutional Right to defend myself from a threat! Which is what I would consider them!

Posted by: rodsmith | Feb 24, 2013 4:15:00 PM

Albeed,

You have now unintentionally supported the position of two different posters, on the same thread, in less than 24 hours.

Go to bed with the knowledge that any village idiot would congratulate you on an effort well done.

Posted by: Tarlsqtr1 | Feb 24, 2013 5:11:20 PM

Rodsmith,

The question is not whether it could have happened, it is whether it did.

It did not. He made a claim, proven false.

Posted by: Tarlsqtr1 | Feb 24, 2013 5:13:35 PM

rodsmith --

"now bill be nice!"

Aw shucks, rodsmith, you know I can't be nice. I'm a certified toadie, bloodluster, Nazi and a whole bunch of other stuff. Indeed, according to our friend Grits, I'm worse than that. He said that I approve of "all state killing as inherently good in all circumstances."

Of course I approve of no such thing. Indeed, I doubt anyone who has posted here, ever, believes it, but no matter. Grits feels like smearing, so he does. It doesn't have to be true. Indeed it doesn't even have to be plausible. It only has to be nasty.

"You have to admit that given Austin PD's current track record and history. It could have been very true."

Well, sure, it COULD be true. It could also be true that the Miami Heat will trade away LeBron James in order to sign me.

Last I looked, an honest person does not belligerently state as true something that's false, whether or not, in an alternative life, it could have been true.

"Plus we were not there..."

That's why having the videotape is so delicious. Fortunately for the truth, it WAS there.

"...I'm sure if 50 cops started coming at me after just getting done being harassed by another one. i'd be doing more than calling them names....."

I think Grits claimed it was six or seven, although I'm not sure. If six or seven cops approached me, I'd say, "Hi guys. How can I help you today?"

Cops are pretty much like everybody else, rodsmith. If you're friendly and respectful toward them, and not looking for a fight, they'll be friendly and respectful toward you.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 24, 2013 8:53:17 PM

LOL good one bill!

"If you're friendly and respectful toward them, and not looking for a fight, they'll be friendly and respectful toward you."

you must be kidding!

Posted by: rodsmith | Feb 25, 2013 12:43:55 AM

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