National / Crime & Legal

Man who escaped from ‘prison without walls’ in Japan gets four more years in jail

JIJI, Kyodo

The Matsuyama District Court sentenced a 27-year-old man to four more years in prison on Friday over his escape earlier this year from an open prison in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture.

According to the ruling and other sources, Tatsuma Hirao broke out of a dormitory for well-behaved inmates while working at a shipyard in Imabari on the evening of April 8. While on the run, he stole about ¥30,000 ($260) in cash, a car, a minibike and some 60 other items worth a total of ¥310,000.

His evasion of a massive police manhunt until his capture in Hiroshima, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the prison, included swimming from the tiny island of Mukaishima to Honshu.

Once on the mainland, he hid in an attic without being noticed by the house’s residents for five days.

In handing down the ruling, presiding Judge Yoichi Suehiro suggested that Hirao had escaped for reasons including bad relationships with others at the Imabari facility.

The judge deemed the getaway to be a malicious act that disrespected the purpose of the open prison, which is managed on the premise of trust between inmates and officers, as well as inmates’ self-control.

Prior to the ruling, Hirao told the court that he should not have escaped.

Prosecutors had asked for a six-year term.

Hirao had been serving a term at the open prison until January 2020 for theft and other crimes. He is now expected to serve the remaining 17 months plus another four years.

The Imabari shipyard, also known as a “prison without walls,” was established in 1961. There have been 17 escapes involving a total of 20 inmates, according to the Justice Ministry.

The latest case prompted the ministry to draw up preventive measures including the introduction of an entry-exit management system and infrared sensors. The ministry, however, stopped short of attaching GPS devices to inmates, since such a measure would contradict the purpose of the open prison.

The ministry has also decided to scrap the autonomous structure of the prison, concluding that this had created hierarchical relations among inmates.