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An increasing number of local bar associations in Japan have introduced or are weighing up a system under which lawyers provide one-on-one assistance to former offenders, such as in finding jobs, to help them reintegrate into society.

The system, financed by bar associations, was introduced in Hyogo Prefecture in 2016 and in Aichi Prefecture in 2019. A bar association in Sapporo will adopt it in mid-November, while use of the system is being considered in other prefectures.

The recidivism rate among those accused of offenses stood at 48.8%, according to the Justice Ministry’s 2020 white paper on crimes.

The support system covers people who have been arrested or sent to prosecutors, regardless of whether they have been indicted or served prison terms.

Kurobane prison in Tochigi Prefecture | KYODO
Kurobane prison in Tochigi Prefecture | KYODO

At the request of the former offenders or correctional facilities, local bar associations help such people find jobs and secure places to live.

Also, lawyers accompany former offenders to apply for welfare benefits and refer drug users to hospitals.

Under the system, support is provided on a one-on-one basis in principle, although multiple lawyers sometimes work together to assist one former offender.

Lawyers involved in the support system receive up to ¥150,000 per former offender in fees and compensation from the local bar association and others.

The system was first created in Japan by the Hyogo Bar Association.

“Helping social reintegration is an important initiative, but individual lawyers were volunteering their time for such activities,” member lawyer Takayuki Matsumoto said. “We wanted to establish a system to cover their costs and pay remuneration to them.”

The Aichi Bar Association has assisted some 150 former offenders under the system.

“I was anxious (about reintegrating into society), so I appreciate the lawyer for standing by me,” one former offender said.

Sapporo Bar Association member lawyers who had helped former offenders with no compensation have been calling for introducing the new support system.

“Assistance by the Hokkaido prefectural government and other relevant institutions alone was not enough at times,” Koichi Mio of the Sapporo Regional Correction Headquarters said. “With cooperation from lawyers, we can provider wider support.”

“I hope that the system will be adopted more widely across the country toward realizing a society where both those who have committed crimes and people around them can live with a sense of security,” Shuntaro Takano, a member of the Sapporo Bar Association, said.

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