68 prison deaths warranted autopsy in decade

Of the 1,592 deaths in Japanese prisons and detention houses in the 10 years to 2002, only 68 required autopsies because of questions over the circumstances of death, according to a Justice Ministry official.

The number of postmortem examinations prior to an autopsy being carried out was 484 during the same period, Kenji Nakai, head of the Justice Ministry’s Correction Bureau, told the House of Representatives committee on judicial affairs Tuesday.

The 68 autopsies, included in the total number of postmortem examinations, were conducted to pinpoint the cause of death, Nakai added.

Investigative authorities conduct postmortem exams on the bodies of people whose deaths are deemed suspicious, connected either to crimes or accidents.

Opposition party members on the committee used death records obtained from the ministry to claim that the number of deaths among prisoners was excessive. They argued that some of the deaths were a result of the ministry failing to provide adequate medical treatment.

Nakai admitted that correctional facilities lacked medical preparedness, saying “Our response was late.”

Whenever a convict dies or commits suicide, coroners or witnesses must detail the results of the postmortem examination, together with their names and titles.

Each prison keeps death records, in line with the Prison Law. The records are preserved for 10 years.

Warden admonished

NAGOYA (Kyodo) The warden of Nagoya Prison was admonished Wednesday for his subordinates’ alleged fatal assault of an inmate with a high-pressure fire hose in 2001, and was warned to prevent further abuses.

Kazuhiro Umetsu, director of the Nagoya Legal Affairs Bureau, admonished Atsushi Nakayama in the second such action meted out to him over a series of fatal assaults on inmates that took place at the prison over the past few years.

Through a joint investigation with the Justice Ministry’s Civil Liberties Bureau, the Nagoya Legal Affairs Bureau determined that the assault rivaled other fatal assaults at the prison involving restraining devices.

The bureau determined that guards involved in the assaults lack respect for inmates’ human rights and that the incidents have exposed structural problems in the directorship and supervision of the prison.

In admonishing Nakayama, Umetsu demanded that he educate the guards under his command on the need to respect inmates’ rights and build a structure ensuring their rights are protected.

Nakayama was admonished in January for his subordinates’ involvement in the death of an inmate in May 2002 and severe injuries to another in September the same year, both involving leather manacles and body belts that were too tightly cinched.

The inmate killing for which the admonition was issued Wednesday took place in December 2001, when two guards allegedly helped another guard aim water from a high-pressure fire hose at the inmate’s bare buttocks as punishment.

The 43-year-old inmate suffered serious injuries to his rectum and anus, and died of an infection the next afternoon, prosecutors said.

The guards were later indicted in connection with the assault.

A total of eight prison guards have been charged in connection with assaults on inmates at the prison.