The Justice Ministry plans to start building Japan’s first prison under a private finance initiative in the fiscal year beginning in April 2005.

The ministry also hopes to make the facility the first to house both male and female inmates.

The prison would be designed to accommodate 1,000 inmates — 500 men and 500 women — who are being imprisoned for the first time for relatively light crimes, according to officials.

The ministry envisages starting construction in fiscal 2005 after picking a site and selecting the companies to take part in the project.

The private finance initiative is a method under which the government builds and operates social infrastructure with the help of private-sector funds and knowhow.

The government has applied the private finance initiative method to 24 projects, including some for roads, railways, parking lots and other facilities, under a law governing such initiatives enacted in July 1999.

There are already prisons operated under this system in the U.S. and Europe.

The ministry hopes to use the method to help alleviate prison overcrowding. Inmates surpassed prison capacity in 2001 and are expected to reach the 80,000 mark in 2005.

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