There’s a unique hair salon in the village of Kasamatsu in Gifu Prefecture where inmates at the women’s prison work as hairstylists as part of a rehabilitation project that aims to equip them with marketable skills for when they rejoin society.
“It is a precious opportunity for inmates to make contact with society. It can also be instrumental for people in the community to feel an affinity with the prison,” a senior official at the prison said.
“Let’s make it so the side is longer than the back,” a female prisoner and stylist in her 50s said during a discussion with a female customer.
The hair salon looks like any shop you may find in the city, with plenty of natural light and a pile of neatly stacked magazines. But one notable difference is the presence of a corrections officer standing on guard nearby.
Hair Salon Midori was set up inside Kasamatsu Prison about 65 years ago and is open weekdays except for the second and fourth Fridays of the month. It offers haircuts and blow drying for ¥900 and perms for ¥1,500, a fraction of comparable prices on the outside. It does not advertise its services but draws customers, many of whom are regulars, through word-of-mouth. A total of 780 customers used the service in the last fiscal year.
The prisoner in her 50s has been working there since September, after the previous stylist was paroled.
“Some customers say they would come back again and that is encouraging. I want to work as a hairstylist after I’m released,” she said.
Due to a sense of security that gossip never spreads outside the prison walls, “some customers say things that they would not normally talk about, and leave feeling refreshed,” she said.
Conversations, too, are part of the training, and she never fails to check out the latest hairstyles of celebrities by watching television or reading magazines at the prison.
Kasamatsu Prison also offers vocational training for boiler engineers, among other professions.
Because it takes at least two years to acquire a professional beautician license, the training is offered to prisoners with a relatively long prison sentence ahead of them. In the past 10 years, 40 prisoners have acquired licenses.
Working as a hairdresser is considered part of the penal labor that is a requirement for those serving time in person.
The revenue from the hair salon will be deposited at the national treasury, and a monthly “incentive remuneration,” is offered to the hairstylist regardless of the number of customers. The stylist receives the payment upon release.
According to the Justice Ministry, similar hair salons that cater to citizens also exist at women’s prisons in Tochigi and Wakayama prefectures.
Barber shops also exist at juvenile prisons in Hakodate in Hokkaido, and Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture.
Kasamatsu Prison recently received news that its previous hairdresser landed a job as a beautician.
“The inmates can view the scenery outside the window of the hair salon, not knowing when they will be released. Wishing that day would come, they have to step up each and every day, feeling a sense of atonement,” said the prison’s general manager, Satoe Maruyama.