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Justice Minister Seiken Sugiura has asked the Legislative Council to discuss the introduction of social service as a way for certain types of convicts to make amends for their crimes. He also asked the advisory body to discuss housing for parolees and convicts who have served their time under a certain degree of surveillance in facilities other than prisons. His proposal is aimed at facilitating convicts’ re-entry into society as well as preventing recidivism, especially by those who have committed sex crimes.

Not all convicts are vicious criminals. Some have committed very mild offenses and want to once again become productive members of society. Mr. Sugiura’s proposal for introducing social service as an alternative form of punishment is meaningful and should be implemented. If people are well informed of the fact that convicts in some foreign countries are contributing to society through social service, they will understand that imprisonment or fines are not the only means of punishment.

Mr. Sugiura included nursing care for the aged and picking up litter as examples of social service. Convicts could also help revive agriculture and fishery by helping farmers and fishermen. They could also work in forestry, an industry that is suffering from a severe shortage of manpower. Nurturing forests is important from the viewpoint of preserving national land and lessening global warming.

Escape could be prevented by attaching small radio tracking devices to convicts, as is done in the Netherlands and Britain. Such a social-service system would help reduce overcrowding in the nation’s prisons, which in 2005 held 1.16 times more prisoners than their intended capacity. Mr. Sugiura also made a reasonable proposal that those convicted of sex- and drug-related crimes who meet certain conditions undergo education and treatment programs at non-prison facilities.

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