‘Substitute prison’ system likely to survive revision

by Hiroshi Matsubara

Legislation being drafted to replace the nearly century-old Prison Law is likely to again include a bill that would continue the controversial practice of using police cells as “substitute prisons” during interrogations.

The proposed legislation is in response to fatal assaults on inmates by guards at Nagoya Prison. The Justice Ministry plans to submit the legislation to the Diet during the session that begins in January.

It would replace the 1908 Prison Law, which has long been criticized for failing to protect inmates’ rights.

But according to ministry officials, the legislation, which deals with the treatment of convicted criminals, will probably be coupled with another bill submitted by the National Police Agency that would allow authorities to continue the practice of using police station cells to question suspects beyond the 72-hour interrogation limit.

On Tuesday, Justice Minister Daizo Nozawa told a news conference that while it remains unclear how the matter will proceed, the government should “make the best efforts possible” to get both bills enacted.

Should the bills be submitted, it would be the fourth time legislation to amend the Prison Law goes before the Diet. Previous attempts, made between 1982 and 1991, faltered after coming up against stiff resistance from the opposition camp, which views the so-called substitute prison system as a violation of detainees’ rights.

Backed by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, opposition parties have claimed that the legislation proposed by the government aims to give more legal backing for the practice, which should instead be considered an exception under the current Prison Law.

Justice Ministry officials say the substitute prison system is not an exception to the law. They argue it would not be realistic to abolish the practice and it should continue to have legal backing.