Penal system of Japan

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The Penal system of Japan (including prisons) is part of the criminal justice system of Japan. It is intended to resocialize, reform, rehabilitate and punish offenders. The penal system is operated by the Correction Bureau of the Ministry of Justice.


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.


Prison education in Japan can be traced back to at least 1871, when practical ethics lectures were introduced into a prison in Tokyo.[1] Reading and writing classes began being implemented into the prison system on a larger scale by 1881. By the late 1880s, it was believed that ethics classes were the most important form of education for prisoners, and by the 1890s, education was considered one of the most important issues of the prison system. Conferences, mostly attended by prison staff, were held in 1889 and 1892 to discuss ways to improve education within the prison system. There was no unanimous agreement on the best way to implement moral education for prisoners, and different institutions began running their own individual programs.[2] In 1910, prison law in Japan ordered education be given to all juvenile inmates, and to any adult inmate deemed to have a need. Regulations stipulated two to four hours per day be set aside for education.[3] In 1952, correspondence courses were introduced into all prisons, and in 1955, a high school was established at Matsumoto juvenile prison for juvenile inmates who had not completed their compulsory education.[4] As of 2018, male prisoners nationwide can still be transferred on request to the school. There were six graduates in 2002, and three in 2018.[5][6]


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 sex workers). 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. The prison guards in Japan do not carry firearms but can activate an alarm where specialized armed guards will come. There can be as low as one prison guard supervising 40 inmates while they are working.

Prison population[edit]

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% 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[7] 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.[8] 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.[9][10] In 2016, there were 18,462 male prison inmates and 2,005 female prison inmates.

Juvenile offenders[edit]

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.

In Japan, juvenile prisoners are defined as people less than 20 years of age. All juvenile cases are first sent to a family court, where the judge may decide that the juvenile be tried by the ordinary court (as an adult). Juveniles not tried by an ordinary court are detained in juvenile training schools (typical juvenile correctional institutions); these prisoners represented 2,872 at the end of 2014. The 52 Juvenile institutions are under the responsibility of the prison administration. Minors under 18 years of age cannot be sentenced to the death penalty. Juvenile prisoners make up 4.5% of the prison population.[11]

Aftercare treatment[edit]

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.

Foreign inmates[edit]

The number of crimes committed by foreigners significantly decreased in recent years from 43,622 in 2005 to 15,276 in 2016. Most common offenses committed by foreigners were theft (60% of their Penal Code offenses), immigration violations (66% of non-Penal code offenses), and drug offenses in 2016.

The number of convicted foreign prisoners was 3,509 in 2016. Yet, most of them were given suspended sentences and only 744 were imprisoned in the same year. The largest group was thieves (122 people) and the second largest was drug offenders (96 people).

Use of volunteers[edit]

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.

Claims of inmate rights abuses[edit]

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.[12]

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."[13]

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,[14][15][16] 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."[17] 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.[17]

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 run libraries inside of any of the correctional facilities. Nakane finds that incarcerated persons 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 America and seven prisons in the United Kingdom and found that the availability of books, and information to incarcerated individuals in Japan was very limited compared to US and UK prisons.[18]

Penal institutions[edit]

Japanese "penal institutions" include prisons for sentenced adults, juvenile detention centers for sentenced juveniles, and detention houses for pre-trial inmates.[19]

In Japan, there are 62 prisons, 7 juvenile prisons, 52 juvenile classification homes, 52 juvenile training schools, 10 Detention Houses, 8 regional parole boards, and 50 probation offices.


Different types of prisoners are sent to different prisons. For example, the Fuchu Prison (Tokyo) and Yokohama Prison (Kanagawa) receive inmates that have advanced criminal inclination with sentences shorter than 10 years, e.g. prisoners affiliated with crime organizations. The Chiba Prison received inmates without advanced criminal inclination and who do not have sentences longer than 10 years, e.g. murder without the possibility of repeating a crime again. Ichihara Prison (Chiba) is specialized for traffic offenders, e.g. repetitive offenders and those who killed others while driving.

Sapporo Correctional Precinct[edit]

Sendai Correctional Precinct[edit]

Tokyo Correctional Precinct[edit]

Nagoya Correctional Precinct[edit]

Osaka Correctional Precinct[edit]

Hiroshima Correctional Precinct[edit]

Takamatsu Correctional Precinct[edit]

Fukuoka Correctional Precinct[edit]

Detention houses[edit]

Medical facilities[edit]

Private Finance Initiative[edit]

Private Finance Initiative (PFI) prisons are maintained with private management. PFI prisons, which are for sentenced inmates with low criminal tendencies, include:[25]

  • Harima Rehabilitation Program Center (播磨社会復帰促進センター)Kakogawa, Hyogo – Houses men
  • Kitsuregawa Rehabilitation Program Center (喜連川社会復帰促進センター)Sakura, Tochigi – Houses men
  • Mine Rehabilitation Program Center (美祢社会復帰促進センター)Mine, Yamaguchi – Houses men and women
  • Shimane Asahi Rehabilitation Program Center (島根あさひ社会復帰促進センター)Hamada, Shimane – Houses men

The inmates population tends to be large: 2,000 at Kizuregawa and Shimane Asahi; 1,000 at Harima and 500 at Miya. Under the PFI, prison facilities were built by the state but the operation and maintenance are made by private companies. Inmates at the private prisons are without advanced criminal inclinations.


The logo of the Correction Bureau includes three "C"s. One stands for Challenge, one for Change, and one for Cooperate.[26]


  1. ^ Röhl, Wilhelm (2005). History Of Law In Japan Since 1868. Brill Publishers. p. 759. ISBN 978-9004131644.
  2. ^ Hardacre, Helen; Kern, Adam Lewis (1997). New Directions in the Study of Meiji Japan. Brill Publishers. p. 754. ISBN 978-9004107359.
  3. ^ "The Prison Law of Japan, and Regulations for the Application of the Prison Law". Charity Organisation Review. 28 (167): 335–340. 1910. JSTOR 43788753.
  4. ^ "Correctional Institutions in Japan" (PDF). Ministry of Justice. 1973. pp. 18–19.
  5. ^ Asakura, Takuya (November 27, 2002). "Education for some refugees is ray of hope". The Japan Times. Archived from the original on May 16, 2018.
  6. ^ Tsuru, Shingo (March 21, 2018). "Prison cell no bar to learning as inmate in his 80s proves". Asahi Shimbun. Archived from the original on May 16, 2018.
  7. ^ (PDF) Archived from the original (PDF) on March 25, 2009. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ "ICPS :School of Law :King's College London : World Prison Brief : King's College London". Archived from the original on March 12, 2011.
  9. ^ Yamaguchi, Mari (9 December 2010). "Prisons trying to cope with swelling elderly population | The Japan Times". Retrieved 2013-09-23.
  10. ^ Coskrey, Jason (3 August 2009). "Rise in elderly shoplifters due to loneliness: police study | The Japan Times". Retrieved 2013-09-23.
  11. ^ Kyoto, University; Kokugakuin, University. "Prisons in Japan". Prison Insider. Retrieved 2019-04-24.
  12. ^ "Document - Japan: Prisoners face cruel and humiliating punishment | Amnesty International". 1998-06-26. Retrieved 2013-09-23.
  13. ^ "Japan". U.S. Department of State.
  14. ^ Johnston, Eric (June 26, 2007). "Prison reforms seen as too little, and way too late". The Japan Times.
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Uniformed and effectual Handling, for example court case ralated [sic] Japan". Retrieved February 15, 2021.
  17. ^ a b "Detention Centers and Prisons in Japan | ヒューライツ大阪".
  18. ^ "Illinois School of Information Science". Retrieved November 24, 2017.
  19. ^ "General Outline of Japanese Adult Corrections." Penal Institutions in Japan Archived 2010-07-03 at the Wayback Machine. Ministry of Justice. 4 (4/21). Retrieved on May 30, 2010.
  20. ^ "Osaka Prison."(in Japanese) Ministry of Justice. Retrieved on May 30, 2010.
  21. ^ "入札公告(建設工事)." (English is at the end of the document) Ministry of Justice. Retrieved on May 30, 2010.
  22. ^ "'I want to get married': an interview with the Japan 'Twitter killer' sentenced to death - The Mainichi". Mainichi Daily News. 17 December 2020.
  23. ^ "NPO法人 監獄人権センター:Center for Prisoner's Rights". Retrieved 2013-09-23.
  24. ^ Criminalization and prisoners in Japan: six contrary cohorts Elmer Hubert Johnson P244 SIU Press, 1997
  25. ^ "General Outline of Japanese Adult Corrections." Penal Institutions in Japan Archived 2010-07-03 at the Wayback Machine. Ministry of Justice. 18 (18/21). Retrieved on May 30, 2010.
  26. ^ "矯正ロゴマーク." Correction Bureau. Retrieved on May 30, 2010.

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