Yomiuri Jan 24 07 on foreigners “filling” J prisons


Hi Blog. Interesting article on the foreign population in prison. Pretty light fare (a heckuva lot of details about food, naturally), but some decent stats. Comment from friend Steve (who forwarded me the article) follows. Debito in Sapporo

Foreigners filling nation’s jails / Prisons bulging, struggling to cope with nonnatives’ needs
The Yomiuri Shimbun January 24, 2007


(PHOTO: Instructions for taking a bath are written in 13 languages, including Japanese, Chinese and Spanish, at a changing room in Fuchu Prison in Tokyo.)

The number of prison inmates across the country is rising, and there is no sign the trend will reverse.

As of the end of November, the nation’s jails held about 71,500 inmates. To run efficiently, prisons should operate at no more than 80 percent of capacity, but the current level is 117 percent.

Fuchu Prison, the nation’s largest, is a 260,000 square meter facility that includes a three-story residential building used only to house foreign inmates.

In the evening, inmates finish working at the prison’s factories and return to the building. Each cell has a sign on its door indicating the type and size of meal the inmate should be served. A “special meal” sign indicates that an inmate requires special consideration concerning meals because, for example, he is a vegetarian. A sign reading ‘190,’ for example, indicates the height of a tall inmate, to ensure extra food is served to him.

At 5 o’clock, dinner is served at each cell. Bread instead of rice is served to most of the foreign inmates. A typical day might see the inmates served grilled salmon in sweet sake with boiled bamboo shoots. Deep-fried vegetables would be served instead of salmon for vegetarians. Beef or chicken dishes are served to Muslims when pork is served to other inmates.

About 3,200 inmates, 360 more than the capacity, are held at Fuchu Prison. Among them, about 550 are foreigners. The number is 1.3 times more than were incarcerated 10 years ago.

Most of them do not understand Japanese. Research officer of the prison Kenji Sawada said, “It’s difficult to understand their languages and cultural differences such as those pertaining to food.”

Religious beliefs are taken into account. Three meals are served at one time in the evening for Muslims during the fasting month of Ramadan when they do not eat during daylight hours.

Masatsugu Yazawa, who specializes in the needs of foreign inmates said, “There are inmates who talk about religious holidays I’ve never heard of. It’s difficult to check whether the events really exist.”

An inmate who had been held as a prisoner of war during Iran-Iraq War grew frenzied in his cell as he recalled his wartime experience. Yazawa said there are quite a few inmates who become unstable as they cannot understand Japanese and have other stresses besides their sentences.

In a building in the center of the facility, signs detailing the nationalities of each foreign inmate line a white board in a room for officials who tend to the needs of foreign inmates.

The board showed that the prison houses inmates from 46 countries who speak 35 languages. The figure has increased from 22 countries in 1986, and 39 in 1996.

The number of inmates from Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and Central America has increased in the past 20 years.

Some inmates speak languages unfamiliar to their warders, such as Wolof of Senegal and Luganda of Uganda. Prison officials managed to find interpreters for such inmates through embassies, universities and other organizations.

“We couldn’t find an interpreter for a Chinese inmate who spoke the Wenzhou language of southern China. We eventually had to communicate through writing,” Masayuki Fukuyoshi from the international affairs section said.

Seventy-six volunteers are registered with the prison as translators of about 40 languages to check letters addressed to the inmates.About 10 of the volunteers work alongside officials who know a foreign language to translate about 300 letters every day.

As of Nov. 30, 2006, the number of foreign inmates nationwide was 5,312–2.6 times more than a decade ago. Most of them face deportation when they are released.

Although 61 countries have signed an agreement to mutually deport inmates, including Japan, South Korea, some European nations and the United States, no such agreement exists with Brazil, China, and Iran, from where many foreign inmates come.

“Since we can only deport inmates when they agree to deportation, the effect of signing the agreement is uncertain,” a Justice Ministry senior official said. (Daily Yomiuri, Jan. 24, 2007)



Today, Wed. Jan. 24th, a highly misleading article appeared in the Daily Yomiuri catchily headlined “Foreigners filling nation’s jails” (page 3).

It noted that as of the end of November there are about 71,500 inmates in Japan, 117 percent of capacity, whereas the prisons are supposed to operate at 81% capacity. Not until the end of the article does it say that the number of foreign inmates was 5,312 as of Nov.30, 2006–2.6 times more than a decade ago. No statistics are given of what the whole prison population was a decade ago and I couldn’t find out through an internet search, though some of you may have the statistics.

Of course, impoverished, linguistically “handicapped,” and disenfranchised people in any country are generally more likely to commit crimes that would get them imprisoned than people who are better off, but it is fun and more interesting to speak in ethnic terms. Unfortunately, it seems like so many people here (and perhaps everywhere) stop at the headlines. But worse, even the mainstream papers don’t hesitate to post highly misleading ones.

5,312 sounds like a pittance to me–a mere 7.43 percent. Which of the suplus numbers of inmates can be said to be doing the filling? One could quite arbitrarily site any segment of the prison population if one wanted to mislead. The short ones? The tall ones? The old ones?

A much more significant article appeared in the Washington Post. Check out the following link:

Below is a quote from it:

“Japanese over 60 now represent the country’s fastest-growing group of lawbreakers, with the soaring rate of senior delinquents far exceeding their growth in the general population. The number of those age 70 and older who have been charged has increased the most — doubling in just four years to a record 21,324 in 2004, the most recent year for which statistics are available. By comparison, juvenile arrests edged up only 2.2 percent during the same period, according to the National Police Agency.”

It doesn’t say how many of them have been imprisoned, only arrested (almost the same thing in Japan or is detention not counted as imprisonment?), but that is interesting, nonetheless. The DY for some reason doesn’t go after the elderly. Foreigners are an easy target. The two categories may inspire quite different emotional responses in the readers. ELDERLY??! Kawaisou. FOREIGNERS??! Naruhodo…

Letters to the editor of DY would be warranted, if anyone feels inspired.
Feel free to repeat or improve on anything in this message.

Steve in Tokyo

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