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Jailed birds squawk over stuffed cells

Women's prisons are in a parlous state. Rising crime by female felons has pumped up the population of women's penitentiaries to an overflowing 120 percent of capacity, according to Shukan Taishu (9/17), and the jam-packed conditions are creating havoc for babes behind bars.

"We've got seven or eight girls crammed into a cell that's supposed to house six," bemoans Akiko, who was incarcerated at Tochigi Women's Prison. "If we've got eight people, there's nowhere for us to hang our washing. We can only hang things on top of each other -- they never dry. I don't want to have to walk around in wet underwear all the time. And if you hang your stuff in a closet, you get punished."

It also seems the cramped settings fray a lot of tempers.

"We have to really fold our bedding well or it won't fit into the closet. When it doesn't fit in, the fighting starts as everyone lays the blame on someone else. When you've got so many people, fights start over even the most trifling matter."

Hanako, who also served her stint at Tochigi, agrees that prison life is atrocious.

"Worse than anything else is dealing with other inmates. You only need one bad egg to gather a couple of buddies and they start bullying. They'll deliberately step on your face while you're sleeping. For people like me, who didn't have long to serve, the persecution was relentless. I couldn't handle it," she says.

Popular belief has it that women's prisons are easier to get by in than their equivalent for men, according to Shukan Taishu, but Akiko dismisses this notion.

"Foreign birds can sleep on beds and are allowed to roll up against the wall. For us in the tatami mat rooms, though, that's banned.

"All the warders are naive young women in their 20s. If something happens, they haven't got a clue about what to do -- they'll run off to get an older warder, then it's into the interrogation room. And this is supposed to be rehabilitation."

Akiko continues: "We're not allowed to talk to the warders, either. If we want to say something, we've got to raise our hand. We could sit there for ages with our hands in the air. If we actually say anything, they just turn around and tell us to shut up.

"It's also expensive. We get about 1,000 yen a month for our work. In my two-year, eight-month term, I earned about 30,000 yen. But then they'd charge me 800 yen for sanitary napkins."

Indeed, if the testimony of the former inmates wasn't enough, Justice Ministry figures confirm the squeezy situation. Of Japan's six women's prisons, all are least filled to 115 percent of their capacity, with Fumoto Women's Prison at 129 percent. Despite extensions to two prisons, the outlook remains bleak as the women's prison population swelled from 1,997 in 1993 to 3,588 by the end of July.

"With sentences getting longer and punishments harsher in recent times, there's little to suggest the crime rate among women will decline," a Justice Ministry spokesman says.

Toshio Sakamoto, a veteran warder with 27 years service under his belt and a book on prison life to his name, says the increase in female felons is a sign of the times.

"You've got tough economic times, which strains marriages and turns housewives to drugs. You've got more divorces, and girls hooking up with weird guys and abusing their kids. Rising female crime reflects what's going on in the rest of society," he says.

Some, like Sakamoto, who urges a hefty increase in the number of warders as a way to solve prison problems, say the situation surrounding women convicts is like a tinderbox just waiting to be sparked.

"If we continue to see an increase in prisoners, the living environment and work situation will worsen," he tells Shukan Taishu. "You'll see more trouble between prisoners, and the inmates and warders will be at tenterhooks, ready to pounce on each other at the drop of a hat." (Names of former prisoners used in this article are pseudonyms)

September 4, 2001

Woodland trial may spotlight flaws in Japanese criminal justice system

Since he was accused of raping an Okinawan woman June 29, Air Force Staff Sgt. Timothy B. Woodland has glimpsed a side of Japanese society criticized by Japan bar associations and human- rights groups.

The criminal justice system is riddled with alleged human- rights abuses, and the case of Woodland, who goes on trial Tuesday, draws attention to these issues, said Seigo Fujiwara, vice president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

“It reveals the problems again that the bar association has been pointing out: in some areas, the Japanese [criminal justice] system is far behind international standards,” he said.

On paper, Japan’s Constitution and criminal procedure codes protect the rights of criminal suspects and prisoners. But, in reality, that’s not always the case, said Hideki Morihara, campaign coordinator for the Japan chapter of Amnesty International.

Allegations of human-rights violations documented by JFBA, a group of 18,224 defense lawyers, range from the subtle to horrific. A toilet in a prison cell floor that can be flushed only by guards. A prisoner with hands bound in back by leather handcuffs, unable to clean himself after defecation. A suspect who would not confess jabbed in the stomach, kicked in the thigh, and told, “You are lower than an animal,” by police interrogators.

“There’s a huge gap between what is stated in law, and practice and implementation,” Morihara said.

Substitute prisons

Bar associations and human- rights groups in Japan are critical of daiyo-kangoku — what is known as the substitute prison system. A substitute prison is a police station cell where suspects may be detained, prior to indictment, up to 23 days after arrest.

JFBA calls these substitute prisons “one of the most peculiar detention systems in the modern world.”

Lengthy interrogations, that sometimes turn violent, are a product of the substitute prison system, JFBA maintains.

Investigators often questioned Woodland from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m, with a break for lunch, while he was detained at the police station, said Annette Eddie-Callagain, Woodland’s American attorney in Okinawa.

Interrogations are not regulated by law and can last 12 to 16 hours a day, Morihara said. Defense lawyers cannot be present, and interrogations are not usually recorded.

In a written response to a Stripes inquiry, Japan Ministry of Justice officials said measures to protect suspects’ rights during interrogation are considered. These include meal and break times, and a limit of 23 days in pre-indictment detention; torture and cruel punishments are absolutely forbidden, and suspects are notified they have the “right to remain silent.

Hostage justice

Japan’s Code of Criminal Procedure provides for “bail as a statutory right,” but Japan bar association members say this a hollow promise.

“While a suspect in a Western country usually faces trial while released on bail, more than 80 percent of suspects in Japan face trial while still in custody,” they said. “Under these circumstances, the so-called right to bail in Japan is far from being a right.”

Morihara said if a defendant denies a charge, it’s impossible to get bail. The suspect’s silence or denial is seen as a tendency to destroy evidence or talk to witnesses if released. In effect, it becomes a tool for coercing confessions.

“We call this system ‘hostage justice,’ JFBA wrote in a 1998 report to a United Nations Human Rights Committee.

Criminal laws also provide that a suspect may be detained if there is sufficient reason to believe he may destroy evidence.

In 99.4 percent of cases, the court grants the prosecutor’s request to detainment before indictment.

After indictment, roughly one in five suspects is released on bail, according to Amnesty International figures.

Prosecutors, Government of Japan officials said, screen a case carefully before indictment

A court-appointed attorney is not approved until after indictment, and suspects must rely on their own resources to hire an attorney before they’re formally charged. Local bar associations may provide detainees with a free counseling session prior to indictment.

“Defense lawyers don’t come into play until it’s too late,” said Eddie-Callagain.

Woodland has two Japanese lawyers, as well as Eddie-Callagain. Last month the Naha District Court in Okinawa denied Woodland bail.

Eddie-Callagain believes one reason her client’s request was turned down is because he has not confessed.

Confessions aren’t sought as much for evidence as an expression of moral repentance, which investigators see as necessary for rehabilitation and reintegration into society, JFBA said.

Japan’s Constitution does not compel criminal suspects to make a self-incriminating confession, yet about 90 percent of all criminal cases going to trial include confessions, says a 1998 U.S. State Department report on human rights in Japan.

Strict prison life

Woodland’s U.S.-Japan Security of Forces Agreement status may protect Woodland from some conditions forced on Japanese prisoners.

“They do have much better treatment,” said Koichi Sekizawa of SOFA members in Japanese prisons. Sekizawa is a legal adviser in the staff judge advocate’s office of Commander Fleet Activities, Yokosuka Naval Base.

There are 11 U.S. servicemembers serving time in Japanese prison, all at Yokosuka Prison in Kurihama outside of Tokyo. Four are former Marines, five are Navy, and two Air Force. One woman, a dependent, is at Tochigi prison northwest of Tokyo.

Servicemembers, like other foreigners and Japanese prisoners, work while in jail. The labor shops include printing name cards for contractors and cleaning rugs, Sekizawa said.

But they eat better. According to information from the Ministry of Justice, supplied to JFBA in 1998, the U.S. military provides food for its servicemembers at Yokosuka Prison. The food is cooked in the prison.

U.S. servicemembers live in single rooms, while Japanese prisoners at Yokosuka Prison live alone or with other inmates.

“All the prisoners — Japanese, U.S. servicemembers and foreigners — should be treated equally in prisons,” JFBA’s Fujiwara said.

Reform coming?

Japan’s criminal justice system is not completely flawed, Morihara said, but reform is necessary.

The government’s Judicial Reform Council is proposing what it calls “bold reform of the present judicial system,” but Morihara is skeptical it will lead to more rights for suspects and prisoners in Japan.

Naoko Sekioka contributed to this report.

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