Far higher proportion of NJ in Japanese prison than proportion of population


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Hi Blog.  Here are some interesting stats (courtesy of Adamukun at Twitter):  Proportions of foreigners within jail populations.  Saudi Arabia has by far the highest.  But Japan is well up there as well, and as a comparative proportion of the total domestic population significantly higher than Saudi.

What we need now is a chart weighting the percentage of foreigners within a population compared to this proportion of foreigners within the prison population, to see the disparity in conviction rates.  (I’ve done some preliminary searches:  I can only seem to find comparative charts going up to 1997 for some reason; woefully out of date, so I’ve done a quick country-by-country search for a few select countries).

Speaking for Japan only, that visibly seven percent or so looks many multiples of the 1.7% of the NJ population (about 4x), meaning that roughly speaking you are four more times likely to be incarcerated if you are foreign than if you are Japanese.  And with all the racial profiling and targeting that goes on by the Japanese police forces, this is a sad if not scary statistic.


Foreign prisoners

Doing time abroad

Aug 5th 2009

Where foreigners fill prisons

NEARLY three-quarters of Saudi Arabia’s prison population is foreign born, the highest share in the world. Switzerland, another rich country with lots of foreign workers, has a similarly large proportion of non-natives behind bars. Migration within the European Union helps to account for the relatively high incidence of foreign inmates in some EU countries, though this may change. EU law now allows for repatriation of inmates to serve their sentences in their native countries. Over 40% of prisoners in Greece, Belgium and Luxembourg are foreigners. By contrast, only 6% of America’s inmates are from abroad.

Estimates from the US State Dept for some of the above countries:

Saudi Arabia’s foreign population:  24.8% (July 2008, meaning prison population of foreigners only about 3x of total population):

Switzerland’s foreign population:  21% (2008, meaning prison population of foreigners only about 3.3x of total population)

Greece’s foreign population:  10% (2005, meaning prison population of foreigners about 4.4x of total population)

Germany’s foreign population (“immigrant background”): 18% (2008, meaning prison population of foreigners about 1.4x of total population)

Australia’s foreign population: 24% (2008, meaning prison population of foreigners about 0.8x of total population)

Japan’s registered foreign population: 1.74% (2008, meaning prison population of foreigners about 4x of total population)

Readers, add more if you like.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


16 comments on “ Far higher proportion of NJ in Japanese prison than proportion of population

  • Dear Debito,

    A lot in the NJ community have always suspected this. I have written a few letters to JT in past about this. No wonder its 4x high in Japan. But by this stats its also clear that Japan is not alone. There are many more countries who have foreigner discrimination records worse than Japan. But we should also compare the crimes into categories and you would find that very surprisingly the foreign inmates are IN for petty reasons. On other hand, what we say as discrimination, the Government chap will see this data from their angle. They would argue with activists and say, ‘Look, we always knew you are four times more bad than us…. That’s why we want to monitor you well…” I see that danger lurking around the corner !

  • Social Science says:

    You can’t look at it that simply.

    The foreigners in Japanese jails are not just a subset of the foreign resident population of Japan (1.74% of the total, as you say) because they also include visitors and illegal aliens. For instance, foreign visitors to Japan in 2008 totalled 8.35 million which is nearly four times the resident foreign population.

    The data also tells you nothing at all about conviction rates. As far as a prison population goes, a prisoner jailed for one year occupies the same space as four prisoners jailed for 3 months each whose sentences run one after the other.

    The question you want to answer is whether foreigners receive custodial sentences more than the Japanese population. You can only answer that by looking at the record of court decisions and not by looking at the composition of the prison population.

  • Innocent_Bystander says:

    I fully agree with Social Science. I’ve seen plenty of other data re RESIDENT NJs whose crime stats invariably fall below those of Japanese. It appears highly likely these numbers have been inflated by illegals awaiting deportation but not convicted of offenses under the criminal code.

    — Could also be people incarcerated awaiting bail (and NJ almost never get bail). There is a lot of grey regarding Japan’s interrogation, incarceration, and prison system.

    But if the figures are sticking to “prison populations” only, then illegals awaiting deportation etc. are not counted because they are in a “Gaijin Tank” under custody of Immigration, not in an official prison.

  • I too would love to see a better breakdown of the stats (if the J. “Justice” system chose to make them available)

    Legal foreign residents should be counted separately from tourists and illegals.
    Obviously 100% of illegals are technically “criminals” just for being here, and probably much more likely to be desperate enough (due to lack of good employment) to steal to survive (not an excuse, just the likelihood)
    But of course, all gaijin are lumped together for the crime stats, and the only classification provided by the national police stats is by nationality and type of crime.
    And those police stats only have 2 special sections reporting crimes by subsets of the population. One for gaijin (plus tourists and illegals). And one for yakuza/gangs.
    Gee, thanks J cops. I feel special.
    No section for corporate criminals, elderly crime, youth crime, bureaucrats, police crime, the mentally unstable, etc. Just gaijin and yakuza. The two “pillars” of all crime in Safety Japan.

    Somewhere there’s a study that claims legal residents are much less likely to commit crimes, because they know the police are more likely to focus investigations on them and the penalty (harsher judgments against foreigners, deportation and thus effective loss of most possessions and/or native family) for crime is much worse than for the natives.
    It’s possible that the data above don’t show just a 4x bias, but maybe an 8x bias (if we assume a legal resident is half as likely to commit a crime as the average native Japanese, including native Japanese knifing spree murderers, rape murderers, child murderers, and the special category of Japanese murderers who are only taken seriously by the justice sytem after they kill a 2ND gaijin)

    Just removing the number of people in custody for visa violations (which is impossible for natives) would skew the numbers more fairly.

    But sadly, it’s true. The justice system will just see this as evidence of gaijin criminal tendencies, rather than bias in the “justice” system.

  • Social Science says:

    It isn’t obvious that illegal aliens will be more prone to commit crimes than legal foreign residents (beyond the immigration violation). It’s also possible that they would be very law-abiding on average for fear of being caught.

    The demographic of an immigrant population is frequently different to the host population. In Japan, in simple terms, it’s younger. Are younger people more likely to commit crimes? Possibly. However, trends in the host population show crime rising among the elderly and some crimes more usually associated with juvenile delinquents – e.g. obstructing authority – are now more likely to be committed by over 60s. To make any sensible comment at all, you have to deal with variables like these.

    The figure for the foreign jail population tells you nothing about conviction rates or incarceration rates. Rather than trying to stretch some data to make a bad case, the better route is to decide what you want to measure and then work out what data you need.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    One measurement that could perhaps be made right away would be the percentage of guilty verdicts that result in suspended sentences.

    Given that foreign people can’t generally acquire visas to enter Japan if they have a past criminal record, we should expect that a greater proportion of foreign criminals, as opposed to native criminals, would be first-time offenders and thus more likely to be given suspended sentences, or lighter sentences, for their crimes.

    There should be few hardened, repeater foreign criminals serving long sentences because they’ll be deported after their first stint in prison. Your first offense should be your only offense, if you’re not Japanese.

    Does anyone have any figures regarding this?

  • If a foreigner is given a suspended sentence, thats still a conviction and possibly grounds for a rejection of visa/deporation, no? If so, there’s an interesting corrolary to that–nearly all convicted criminals in Japan who are not in prison are Japanese.

  • Interresting discussion so far, but what about the elephant in the room? Namely: what percentage of NJ serving prison sentences have been wrongly convicted, railroaded by a racist justice system? Surely people like Mr. Idubor belong in a special category.

  • Social Science says:

    “Given that foreign people can’t generally acquire visas to enter Japan if they have a past criminal record, we should expect that a greater proportion of foreign criminals, as opposed to native criminals, would be first-time offenders and thus more likely to be given suspended sentences, or lighter sentences, for their crimes.”

    You can get a visa without declaring your past criminal record so we shouldn’t take your supposition for granted. You can even sometimes be allowed in with a known criminal record (Paul McCartney). First offences also don’t automatically mean suspended sentences. Bear in mind also that “foreigner” includes special permanent residents who have been born in Japan.

    I strongly suggest people start making arguments from actual data rather than supposition and guesswork.

  • With new law (draft a the moment) GoJ will be more proud to spread propaganda about increase of foreign crime, which will be just forgotten ID (prison and/or 200,000yen )

  • Social Science, I think Mark in Yayoi’s statement that “Given that foreign people can’t generally acquire visas to enter Japan if they have a past criminal record” is not off, because it would be generally true. In cases where it wouldn’t be true the people applying for visas would be lying.
    Don’t Japanese visa applications have places to check off that the applicant does not have a criminal record? If they do, then commenting on this would not make one guilty of “supposition and guesswork.”

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    Social Science, I humbly beg for your forgiveness in not being a professional journalist and just throwing out ideas first. If we can’t start with supposition in the comments section of a personal blog, then where can we?

  • Social Science says:

    “Don’t Japanese visa applications have places to check off that the applicant does not have a criminal record?”

    Actually, no, not unless that person is on an international register. Although we should be concerned about the growing Big Brother nature of governments, they haven’t yet got around to routinely making their citizen’s criminal records freely available to foreign consulates or other countries’ immigration services.

    Bear in mind also that the largest group of foreign residents, even including special permanent residents who are born in Japan, is from China. Japanese immigration has little chance of picking an American up on a shoplifting conviction in Kansas City but absolutely no chance of doing so if a Chinese national has a similar record in Shanghai. The same is true for the Philippines, Brazil, Peru and Vietnam which are other major foreign residents groups. Japanese embassies do make efforts to check out the record of people applying for visas – and this will only get easier for them to do in the future – but they don’t have access to a great deal of data even today.

    And that’s just looking at working visas, student visas and the like which get more than a cursory review. When you include over eight million travellers coming on short term visas for tourism, business etc, you can imagine how easy it is for people to conceal a criminal record. Japan has visa waiver arrangements with 62 countries so the only check on the bulk of those people was by the official at the immigration counter. Certainly, you’ll be picked up if you are on an international persona non grata list but there’s virtually no chance otherwise.

    It’s worth saying that the penalty for making false statements on a visa application is high but many people are willing to run the minor risk.

  • Thanks for that answer, Social Science, but I meant to ask whether visa application forms for Japan ask if the person has a criminal record or not. I haven’t applied for a visa for a long time and don’t remember.
    I imagine that a lot of people lie and immigration authorities don’t discover this.

  • Oops, I just checked and the visa application I filled out indeed did not have a space for criminal record. But I’m pretty sure that the last entry/customs form I filled out did.

  • >roughly speaking you are four more times likely to be incarcerated if you are foreign than if you are Japanese

    This statement is statistically unsustainable.

    The real question is if foreign criminals are more like to be incarcerated that Japanese criminals and the numbers just don’t allow any statement about that.


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