Government ministers were split Sunday over whether Japan should incorporate a new system under which suspects with psychiatric problems would receive hospital treatment at the advice of courts.

On a television program, Justice Minister Mayumi Moriyama said she favored establishing such a system, while the health minister disagreed due to the very small number of potential inpatients.

Moriyama said, “Of course, we should study it in the near future.” But Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Chikara Sakaguchi, also speaking on the NHK TV show, voiced reluctance about the plan.

He said the number of potential inpatients “accounts for only several hundred in the country. If existing mental hospitals provide proper care for them at designated facilities, there would be no problem.”

Sakaguchi, a former medical doctor, also mentioned the need for various kinds of professional support for the patients after they leave the hospitals.

“When they live by themselves outside the hospitals, it can lead to their committing another crime. . . . How to observe such people in society will be a key task,” he said.

The two ministers’ remarks were made amid renewed concerns following the June 8 killing of eight schoolchildren at an elementary school in Osaka Prefecture by a 37-year-old man, who initially claimed he was mentally ill.

Under the Penal Code, suspects with serious mental problems are exempted from punishment. Instead, they are admitted to psychiatric wards by local authorities.

Moriyama also questioned the current system in which a doctor decides on the release of mentally ill suspects.

“A decision from a medical point of view does not always work, I guess,” she said. “We need a scheme under which judicial professionals can join in the decision-making process.”

Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Atsuko Toyama also said the ministry plans to ask the Finance Ministry for money earmarked for tighter security of schools in its fiscal 2002 budget.

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