The Legislative Council, an advisory body for the justice minister, on Feb. 8 submitted an outline of a revision of the Juvenile Law to Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki. The recommendations are aimed at making punishment stricter for minors who have committed crimes.
One wonders whether this is in line with the basic spirit and principle of the Juvenile Law, whose main purpose is rehabilitation, rather than punishment. In writing the law revision, the Justice Ministry should fully consider these things. The Diet also should discuss the law revision by taking into account special factors surrounding minor offenders. Under the current Juvenile Law, a court is allowed to reduce life imprisonment for a convicted minor to imprisonment of 10 to 15 years. But the council has called for introducing prison sentences of 10 to 20 years.
The council also calls for making indefinite sentences as provided for by the Juvenile Law stricter. Currently the lower limit for such a sentence is five years or less and the upper limit 10 years or less. The council says the lower limit should be 10 years or less and the upper limit 15 years or less.
It is important to consider why the Juvenile Law provides for an indefinite sentence. The law aims to rehabilitate minor offenders, so it is important to see whether rehabilitation education for them has produced the desired effects. Since a judge cannot foresee when such effects will be achieved, an indefinite sentence is an appropriate tool. Raising the limits will impose unjust and unnecessary punishment on juveniles who have been successfully rehabilitated.
In the basic form of proceedings for minors who committed crimes, the officers concerned discuss what would be the best way to rehabilitate them and make a decision only after the minors understand the meaning of the decision. On the basis of the spirit embodied in this form of proceedings, a 2000 revision of the Juvenile Law limited public prosecutors’ participation in proceedings to such heinous crimes as murder, burglary, rape and arson as well as injury resulting in death and abandonment resulting in death. The council calls for expanding public prosecutors’ participation to cover theft, bodily injury, blackmail and professional negligence resulting in death. This shows that the council has failed to grasp the principle of the law.
Many minors who have committed crimes were victims of abuse, discrimination or bullying, or their families have collapsed. Their experiences and backgrounds need to first be understood by people involved in their rehabilitation. Only when this has been done can such minors open their hearts and come to understand the graveness of their crimes.
Simply punishing minors will not lead to their rehabilitation. In writing the next revision of the Juvenile Law, the Justice Ministry should keep in mind that the law’s primary purpose is the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders so that they can successfully reenter society and become productive citizens.