National / Crime & Legal

Japan repatriated more than 400 foreign prisoners over 16-year period, Justice Ministry reveals

Kyodo

Japan repatriated 423 foreign prisoners over the last 16 years under an international treaty designed to help rehabilitate and reintegrate convicted criminals, Justice Ministry officials said Tuesday.

Japan is a signatory to the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons along with members of the Council of Europe and the United States. A related domestic law was put into force in June 2003.

It has signed separate bilateral treaties with Thailand, Brazil and Iran, which are not members of the convention, and is negotiating similar agreements with China and Vietnam.

“Serving terms in home countries where there are no language or cultural differences should help the prisoners’ smooth return to society,” a ministry official said.

For a prisoner to be transferred under the treaty, Japan, the prisoner and his or her home country must consent. The offense committed by the potential transferee must be a crime in both countries.

The 423 prisoners were transferred to 30 countries. The U.K. topped the list with 61 prisoners, followed by the United States at 54, the Netherlands at 51, Canada with 44 and South Korea at 43, according to the ministry.

Japan, for its part, has had 10 of its nationals repatriated, with five returning from the United States, three from Thailand and two from South Korea, it said.

The Justice Ministry plans to continue using the transfer system as about 40 percent of the roughly 1,600 foreign prisoners in Japan are from signatory states, and 50 of the 146 Japanese serving terms abroad are also doing so in signatory countries.

For those who cannot or do not wish to be sent home, some Japanese prisons offer meals, specific beds and language services catered to their needs.

Japan has introduced an international office tasked with dealing with foreign prisoners at prisons in Tokyo, Tochigi, Kanagawa, Aichi and Osaka prefectures.

Among them, Tokyo’s Fuchu Prison — which holds the country’s largest foreign prisoner contingent of 332, or about 20 percent of the total prison population — has a three-story building for foreign prisoners with rooms equipped with a bed, rather than a futon, for each. It also has its rules and regulations available in multiple languages.

Vegetarian meals are available, while the prison moves meal times to the evening for Muslims during Ramadan when their faith prohibits them eating in daylight hours.

Prisoners have access to services in 52 languages, with specialists at an international office and language assistance provided by private firms.

Letters sent to prisoners are translated when necessary, while a remote interpretation service is also available through video calls, which was used about 100 times last year, according to the prison.

“It is economical as there is no need for a translator to come in person,” said a senior official at the prison.