• Kyodo

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Prison authorities in Japan sold about 1 billion yen worth of mostly unwanted made-in-prison products to a number of government-designated companies in fiscal 2001.

Sources said this apparently questionable business practice has gone on for nearly 20 years.

The Correctional Association, a prison welfare organization affiliated with the Justice Ministry, defended the policy, saying it has asked for “cooperation” from firms to help maintain the volume of work at prisons.

Some of the companies involved, however, said they felt “coerced” into taking the prison products.

Norio Fukuda, managing director of the Correctional Association in charge of prison-labor products, said he has heard that some prison officials may have acted in a “coercive” manner, but he defended the practice, saying the firms — known as prison-sponsor companies — had merely been asked to cooperate with the association’s efforts to sell products.

Ten prison-sponsor companies currently operate in Japan. The designation is given to companies that handle more than 50 million yen worth of prison products a year for three straight years. The companies are allowed to sell their own products as prison-sponsor goods at prison-products fairs.

According to officials at the Correctional Association and sources at some of the prison-sponsor companies, sales of prison products in Japan in fiscal 2001 totaled 11.2 billion yen. Each of the companies bought around 100 million yen worth of prison products.

The sources said the practice of asking firms to buy unsold prison products began in 1983, when the Correctional Association’s prison-products division was established.

One official of a prison-sponsor company said his company was forced to buy all the unsold products from one particular fair.

“Prison staff threatened to bar those who refuse from taking part in prison-products fairs,” the official said.

A former employee of another company said his firm had a large stock of unwanted prison products that company officials had been forced to buy.

Reflecting an apparently cozy relationship between prison officials in charge of made-in-prison products and the sponsor companies, one Takamatsu furniture company had earlier been found to have forged 60,000 Correctional Association logos.

This allowed them to sell nearly 20,000 pieces of furniture actually made by local furniture makers.

The association itself has been implicated for using its own CAPIC logos to sell furniture imported from Southeast Asia as products made at Okayama Prison. CAPIC is the acronym for Correctional Association Prison Industry Cooperation.

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