Prison conditions generally met international standards, except that several facilities were overcrowded and lacked sufficient heating in the winter or cooling in the summer.
Physical Conditions: As of the end of August, there were 68,285 prisoners, a slight decrease from 2011. This figure, which counts detained defendants and suspects as well as sentenced prisoners and convicts, included 5,332 female prisoners and no minors. Male and female prisoners were held in separate facilities in prisons and detention centers. Although the national prison population was significantly less than the country’s facility capacity of 90,547 at the end of 2011, six prison facilities experienced overcrowding. Sentenced female prisoners were at more than 108 percent of capacity nationwide (see subsection on improvements below). Juveniles under age 20 were held separately from adults in prisons and regular detention centers, but regulations do not require that minors be held separately in immigration detention centers.
Instances of death in prisons or detention centers were rare.
In some institutions clothing and blankets were insufficient to protect inmates against cold weather. Most prisons did not provide heating during nighttime hours in winter despite freezing temperatures, subjecting inmates to a range of preventable cold injuries. Foreign prisoners in the Tokyo area continued to present to visiting diplomats during the year chilblains-affected fingers and toes of varying severity, the direct result of long-term exposure to cold.
Reliable NGOs and foreign diplomats also reported that some facilities continued to provide inadequate food and medical care. Foreign diplomats confirmed cases during the year in which the prison diet was inadequate to prevent weight loss. Prisoners had access to clean, potable water.
Cases of slow and inadequate medical treatment were documented, including for detainees and prisoners with preexisting medical conditions. Foreign diplomats also noted that dental care was minimal and access to palliative care was lacking. Police and prison authorities were particularly slow in providing treatment of mental illness and continued to have no protocol for offering psychiatric therapy. NGOs, lawyers, and doctors also continued to criticize medical care in police-operated preindictment detention centers and immigration detention centers.
Administration: Credible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report that prison management regularly abused solitary confinement rules, which set a maximum of three months, but with the possibility of extension every month thereafter if deemed necessary. Prison officials maintained that solitary confinement is important to keep order in prisons at or above capacity.
Authorities reportedly held prisoners condemned to death in solitary for an average of almost eight years until their execution--and kept some of these prisoners in solitary for decades--although authorities allowed them to receive visits by their families, lawyers, and others.
Recordkeeping on prisoners was thorough and adequate, including information on prisoner location, transfer dates and destinations, disciplinary actions, and visitors as well as the number of packages, books, and letters received. Alternative and suspended sentences were commonly used for first-time and nonviolent offenders. There were no ombudsmen serving on behalf of prisoners and detainees.
Authorities often limited prisoners’ access to visitors to immediate family members or allowed one immediate family member, such as the detainee’s mother, to the exclusion of others. The law allows for broad religious observance within prisons, as long as these activities do not interfere with prison management. Prisons are also required to allow for consultations with a prison chaplain, but they did not always provide routine access to religious observance. According to foreign diplomats, prison officials sometimes rejected prisoner requests to join religious meetings or receive religious counseling, citing a desire for foreign embassies to approve the visit or an inability to ascertain the accreditation of the individual seeking to provide counseling.
While authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhumane conditions, they continued to provide the results of such investigations to prisoners in a letter offering little detail beyond a final determination.
Monitoring: NGOs reported that the government generally allows visits by nongovernmental and international organizations. During the year the International Committee of the Red Cross did not request a prison visit, but the Japan Federation of Bar Associations did.
Prison management regulations stipulate that independent committees inspect prisons and detention centers operated by the Ministry of Justice and detention facilities operated by police. Committees included physicians, lawyers, local municipal officials, and representatives of local citizens and were permitted to interview detainees without the presence of prison officers. From April 2011 to March 2012, these committees conducted 184 visits and 645 interviews with detainees and made 562 recommendations. In response to 384 of these recommendations, prisons rectified shortcomings or pledged to do so.
By law there is also an inspection process for immigration detention facilities, but it was not completely independent. Domestic and international NGOs and international organizations continued to note that this process failed to meet international prison inspection standards. They cited the Ministry of Justice’s provision of all logistical support for the inspection committee, the use of ministry interpreters during interviews with detainees, the lack of repeat visits to the same facilities, the ability of prison officials to screen lists of detainees to be interviewed, and the ability of ministry officials to access a locked mailbox where detainees may submit complaints to the committee.
There continued to be no inspection procedure for observing the country’s 52 juvenile reform facilities.
Improvements: The Ministry of Justice extended facilities for female convicts, which eased overcrowding to some extent.