The Japan Federation of Bar Associations is ready to call for improved medical services and living conditions at the nation’s prisons, it was learned Tuesday.

The proposal, which will be submitted to a Justice Ministry panel, is in response to last month’s final ministry report on about 1,600 inmate deaths over 10 years through 2002.

A draft of the proposal calls for creating a third-party watchdog, including representatives from the private sector, to monitor conditions at correctional facilities to prevent human rights abuses at the hands of guards.

According to the draft, the bar federation will also call for jurisdiction over medical facilities within prisons to be transferred from the Justice Ministry to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. It is hoped this measure would ensure the same quality of medical services as are provided outside prison walls.

The federation plans to have the proposal endorsed by its members and submit it to the ministry’s Correctional Policy Reform Committee by the end of the month, a federation official said.

In its final report, released June 13, the ministry ruled out abuse by guards except for two recent inmate deaths and 15 “suspicious” deaths. As for the 15, the ministry said it could not determine whether the inmates died as a result of abuse by guards.

The probe on which the report was based had been prompted by the deaths of two inmates at Nagoya Prison in the past two years, for which the guards are currently standing trial.

But the ministry said there were two conspicuous cases of serious medical malpractice by prison officials, which could involve criminal liability, and reported the cases to the Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office.

In addition, the report acknowledged that there were 18 lesser cases of inappropriate medical treatment, which it said should help discussions on improving medical services for inmates.

Yuichi Kaido, a lawyer and secretary general of the Center for Prisoners’ Rights, hailed the ministry report for acknowledging various problems in medical services at prisons. He also called for the correctional reform committee, which was formed by Justice Minister Mayumi Moriyama after the deadly abuse cases surfaced at Nagoya Prison, to fully address the problems.

Many cases of inmate deaths point to lack of appropriate medical equipment, insufficient number of medical practitioners and lack of medical knowledge by prison officials, especially regarding mental illness, Kaido said.

As for the question of guards fatally abusing prisoners, the bar federation, in its draft proposal, says the ministry fell short of fully addressing the issue, particularly in cases involving the use of a controversial leather restraining device.

Kaido said the ministry unconditionally accepted far-fetched explanations from prison officials, and picked and chose doctors’ opinions in an attempt to cover up causal links between guards’ conduct and prisoner deaths.

He said he wants unbiased medical experts to examine the ministry’s report. He also encouraged relatives of deceased prisoners to take legal action in order to learn the truth of the circumstances of the deaths.

The ministry’s report suggests that prison authorities in many cases failed to thoroughly look into the causes of inmate deaths. The bar federation plans to urge the Justice Ministry panel to let an outside authority fully examine each case.

The panel is currently conducting an unprecedented survey on about 2,700 inmates and 660 guards in an attempt to learn more about prison conditions.

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