A set of bills passed by the Diet last month, including a Criminal Law revision, will introduce within three years a suspended sentence and probation procedure for convicts who fall into a certain category. The new system is intended not only to facilitate rehabilitation and readjustment of convicts but also to help reduce the rate of recidivism.
But there are not enough volunteers and facilities that take care of those released from prison under the new system. The government must make serious efforts to quickly increase the number of such volunteers and facilities.
Currently convicted criminals who receive prison sentences are either imprisoned or have their sentences suspended. The new system falls between these two sentences. It will be applied to convicts who would be given three year sentences or shorter under the current system — mainly narcotic drug users and people facing prison terms for the first time. Under the new system, a court could give, for example, two years’ imprisonment with six months suspended and two years’ probation. After 1½ years of imprisonment, the convict would be released.
The new system is different from the current practice of conditional release, which is granted after prison authorities examine convicts’ attitudes and determine whether they have repented for their crimes and have undergone reform.
Under the new system, courts will decide at the outset whether a convict should be given probation during and after the period of the suspension. Narcotic drugs users, for example, will undergo an education program to end their addition and receive help in finding a residence and a job during the time their prison terms are suspended and they are on probation.
Since the rate of recidivism, excluding traffic accidents, hit a record high of 43 percent in 2011, the Justice Ministry began to think that probation will be more effective in preventing recidivism. The rate of recidivism is especially high among drug users. Under the new system, convicts on probation will receive assistance with employment and other matters from volunteer probation officers.
At present, there are about 48,000 voluntary probation officers across the nation, who under the law are classified as national part-time public servants. But many of them are elderly and every year their number decreases because the work is difficult and there is no pay. Because the number of people placed on probation is expected to greatly increase, it is imperative that the government enlighten people about the importance of voluntary probation officers and offer compensation in line with the job’s importance.
Rehabilitation facilities for narcotic drug users are already near capacity, and officials of such facilities say that it is impossible to accept new people. The government should invest more money and human resources to ensure that the new system of prison term suspension and probation will work effectively.