What killers can expect in Japanese prisons

If convicted of murdering Nicola Furlong, Richard Hinds could face up to 10 years in an adult prison, where he may be forced to sleep on tatami mat floors without heating in winter, bath communally, and be required to undertake educational programmes aimed at understanding the grief of his victim’s family.

What killers can expect in Japanese prisons

While most juvenile offenders in Japan are assigned to juvenile training schools, a few are handled under the general penal system, according to Hiroko Goto, a specialist in juvenile law at Chiba University’s School of Law.

Although Mr Hinds was 19 at the time of the alleged crime, and will still be 19 at sentencing today, the fact that he turns 20 on Apr 1, coupled with his lack of Japanese language ability, means he is likely to be sent to a regular penal facility, said Prof Goto.

It is likely that, after undergoing an evaluation to determine his physical and mental condition, Mr Hinds would be imprisoned at Fuchu prison in western Tokyo, which is one of Japan’s largest prisons whose staff are well-versed in handling non-Japanese inmates.

Were he able to speak Japanese, Mr Hinds would likely be sent to Kawagoe Juvenile Prison, a facility 50km north-west of the Japanese capital that falls in the Tokyo Correctional Precinct.

“Vocational training is a possibility in Japanese juvenile facilities, but assuming [Mr Hinds] does not speak Japanese, it is likely that he will have to undertake basic labour,” said Prof Goto, who has written numerous papers and books on Japanese juvenile law, including Hanzai Higaisha to Shounen-ho (Murder Victims and the Juvenile Law).

According to official information, the majority of labour work at the Fuchu prison involves the production of toys, Melamine tableware and paper, and the processing of metal parts and panel painting. At Kawagoe, most labour centres around cleaning and the assembly of ballpoint pens and fireworks.

Inmates are reportedly paid around 5,000 yen (€40) per month, which is put aside for life after prison.

Mr Hinds, a musician from the US, whose verdict will be read at the Tokyo District Court today, will be expected to work eight hours per day, five days per week, should he be found guilty, Prof Goto said.

He would be required to attend workshops that would instruct him in such areas as accountability and understanding the feelings of his victim’s family, Prof Goto said.

Japanese prison cells take the form of communal rooms — 12m sq tatami mat rooms that are shared by six to eight inmates — or one-person cells, measuring 4m sq, including the space taken by a toilet. Each room has a television and foreign inmates are supplied with English-language newspapers.

As Mr Hinds is unable to speak Japanese and so can’t communicate effectively with Japanese inmates, it is likely he would be placed in one of the single cells, of which there are many at Fuchu prison, according to Prof Goto.

Often in adult situations, beds are provided for foreigners, but crimes of this magnitude committed by juvenile foreigners are rare, so it’s possible that no such special provisions are readily available, Prof Goto said. However, it is likely that any requests for special dietary considerations would be met, she added.

The content of normal menus changes with the seasons, but a typical dinner might consists of fish, rice, pickles, beans, and miso soup. There is no coffee, Indian tea, alcohol, or smoking allowed, though Japanese green tea is served with meals, according to Prof Goto.

A weekday normally starts at 6.30am, with breakfast at 7am. Labour commences at 7.40am and finishes at 4.30pm, with a 40-minute break for lunch. Leisure activities follow dinner, which lasts for 30 minutes from 5pm. Lights go out at 9pm.

Exercise time is allocated daily for one hour, although this is usually slightly longer in juvenile institutions.

Bathing is allowed for 15 minutes, twice a week in winter and three times a week in summer. The communal baths take the form of large tubs with open showers lining the sides.

In the Fuchu prison, there is no heating in winter and no air conditioning in summer, when only fans are permitted.

“All inmates in Japanese prisons are assigned a mental councillor but whereas in an adult prison these staff average about one per 30 or 40 inmates, in juvenile correctional facilities there is usually one per five or six prisoners,” Prof Goto said.

Fuchu Prison is designated as an institution for reoffenders, but for almost 20 years it has also been earmarked as a facility for non-Japanese convicts due to the suitable skills of the staff.

First opened in the late 18th century, it has capacity of almost 3,000 inmates.

In 1995 it opened an international division in 1995 due to an increase in foreign inmates. The library has a good collection of English-language books, according to Prof Goto.

Kawagoe juvenile prison is one of seven juvenile facilities in Japan. Though dating back to the late 19th century, it has stood at its current premises, about 50km north-west of central Tokyo, since 1969. It has a capacity of 1,371 inmates.

Juveniles are allowed to stay in the prison until they are 26, meaning if Mr Hinds is handed a 10-year term and sent to Kawagoe, he will be required to serve at least the last three years of his sentence in Japan’s general penal system.

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