Amid concerns about the recidivism rate, hundreds of companies are working with the government to provide jobs to those released from correctional facilities to help them return to society.
On a recent winter afternoon, Masahiro Okamoto, the president of a steeplejack firm in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, who had problems with drug abuse as a youth, addressed 26 inmates at a prison in Tochigi Prefecture about his company’s support program.
“I think it would be a great advantage for you to secure jobs before you get out and return to society,” he told them.
Among the inmates, juveniles and other people released on probation by correctional facilities between 2011 and 2015, the Justice Ministry found that the recidivism rate at the end of probation was about three times higher for those without jobs.
In its program to reduce recidivism, the government pays employers up to ¥720,000 ($6,100) per person per year to hire and support those released from correctional facilities.
These employers, who must register with probation offices, are obliged to make preparations while the inmates and juveniles serve their time and basically hire them within a month of their release, among other requirements.
Earlier this month, Japan enacted a law that stipulates the responsibilities of the central and local governments in preventing recidivism.
Okamoto, who began his steeplejack career at 19 and started his own company at 30, said he benefited from caring adults when he was battling his own problems and now wants to give something back to society.
He has hired 47 people released from prisons, juvenile training schools, juvenile classification homes and child welfare facilities to work at his company, Serie Corp., and provided them places to live and acted as their guarantor.
During his talk at Kurobane Prison, Okamoto stressed the importance of sticking to a career no matter what kind of hardships or adversity society may throw your way.
“I switched employers many times but I did not change what I do. That’s why I was able to acquire the necessary skills and become independent,” he said.
Based on his experience, Okamoto encouraged the inmates to choose careers that will allow them to earn professional skills so they can make a living even if they change companies or start their own businesses.
“There are various professions requiring workmanship other than steeplejack, such as cooks, auto mechanics or hairstylists. Please find something that you feel passionate about and can continue with,” he said.
In an effort to broaden career choices for those released, Okamoto has launched an NPO and asked over 300 companies in a variety of fields to hire them.
Okamoto admits that the public still views ex-convicts harshly and says that although many company representatives praise him for what he is doing, they are hesitant to actually help.
According to a Justice Ministry official, more than 16,300 companies were registered as cooperative employers as of April 1, but only about 800 had actually hired ex-inmates or those released from juvenile training schools.
In questions prepared for Okamoto’s talk, the inmates expressed anxiety about re-entering the workforce, including discrimination based on their criminal records.
Okamoto told them there is no discrimination at his company and they should apply for jobs at firms that put out recruitment ads specifically directed at inmates because they have experience with the matter. There should be good role models they can look up to and seek advice from there, he said.
“The images of former inmates and former delinquents are not positive among the general public, and you need to regain their trust through your good attitude and work ethic,” he said at the prison event.
At the end of the session, one participant told Okamoto that he would like to become a cooperative employer in the future and asked him about the application process.
“I think it is a fantastic idea that people who were actually in prisons or juvenile training schools will become cooperative employers,” Okamoto said, telling him that he could contact any of the probation offices throughout the country.
Yuya Yanagi, 22, got out of Tama juvenile training school in Hachioji, western Tokyo, in February 2015 and has been working for Okamoto since then.
While many of the former inmates offered jobs at the company have quit and disappeared, he has stuck around and become a model employee.
Okamoto said Yanagi’s hard work and punctuality are rare traits in former offenders and that most quit within two or three months.
“I am very grateful that Mr. Okamoto hired me, a former delinquent,” said Yanagi, who was sent to juvenile training school for theft.
“The reason I can keep up the hard work is because I can’t betray Mr. Okamoto, as well as my co-worker who is living with me,” he said.
“My dream is to launch my own company, a steeplejack firm or something else, and employ people who have gotten out of prison, juvenile training school or foster homes” like Okamoto does.
“Since I can understand their feelings, I would like to extend a helping hand to them,” Yanagi said.
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