Abashiri Prison in Hokkaido allows well-behaved inmates to raise beef cattle at a nearby farm in a program designed to teach them that each life must be respected.

Meat from the black cattle has been on sale under the name Abashiri Kangoku Wagyu (Abashiri Prison Japanese Beef) at a shop next to the prison since February. Some of the cattle have earned the highest rank of A5 from the Tokyo-based Japan Meat Grading Association.

On the morning of April 22, one male inmate was brushing the back of a well-fed cow at a cattle shed at Futamigaoka farm, about 7 km away from the prison in Abashiri, which is located on the Sea of Okhotsk.

“We raise cattle from birth until they get shipped,” the inmate, who is in his 30s, said. “We are learning firsthand how precious and transitory each life is.”

The inmate, who has been working on the farm for a year, is one of eight Abashiri inmates taking care of some 100 head of cattle.

None of the inmates had any experience of cattle raising, according to the prison.

“People have warm feelings before animals,” a prison official said. “We hope the time with living things will help them (the inmates) develop compassion toward others.”

Abashiri Prison, which houses offenders serving sentences of less than 10 years, is the only jailhouse in Japan that has incorporated beef farming into its rehabilitation program.

At the farm, the inmates, who are all classified by the prison as well-behaved and likely be released on parole soon, work from 7:40 a.m. until 4:20 p.m., feeding cattle, cleaning the shed and maintaining the facility.

They also stay at an accommodation facility on the farm. The cattle will be shipped when they turn about 30 months or weigh 750 kg to 800 kg.

The inmate in his 30s said the cattle won high marks “probably because we give deep affection to each of them and try not to make them feel stress.”

Out of five cows shipped on April 16, three received the highest A5 rank, while the remaining two were graded A4, according to the prison.

“Producing high quality meat largely depends on the raising environment as well as the bloodline and feed,” said Yuichi Kubo, a judicial counselor who is supervising the program.

The prison started the farming program around 1997. Since Kubo took charge about four years ago, the quality of the beef has been improved with the cattle being fed more pasture grass and allowed to drink water anytime.

The beef produced at the farm has been distributed as Hokkaido-produced Wagyu through the Sapporo-based Hokuren federation of agricultural cooperatives.

In February, Aim Services Co., a Tokyo-based food service company, purchased some of the beef and started selling it at a shop next to the prison.

The shop said long lines form whenever prison beef is put on its shelves and noted popular cuts sell out immediately.

The beef is priced at ¥350 to ¥1,000 per 100 grams.