In his analysis of the current Japanese corrections system, internationally respected criminologist Elmer H. Johnson focuses on three basic questions: What are the characteristics of the major programmatic elements? How do various personnel carry out their programmatic responsibilities? Why are the various duties and activities carried out in a particular way?
Johnson points out that compared with the United States, where prison populations are huge and often violent, Japan incarcerates relatively few criminals. In 1989, for example, Japan locked up only 34 out of every 100,000 citizens while the United States imprisoned people at a rate of 271 per 100,000. Examining the cultural differences leading to this disparity, Johnson notes that in Japan prosecutors are reluctant to refer defendants for trial and the courts often suspend sentences for convicted felons.
In Japan, two bureaus—the Correction Bureau and the Rehabilitation Bureau—administer all Japanese correctional activities. Placing these bureaus in the organizational scheme of the Ministry of Justice, Johnson traces the history, describes the organizational ideologies, and outlines the special features of each.
A central feature of the Japanese penal system is the industrial prison, a concept that met such fierce opposition in the United States that it lost almost all access to the free market by the 1940s. Johnson traces the history of the industrial prison, noting particularly that the industrial operations in adult institutions explain in part why there is almost no violence and why few try to escape. Juvenile institutions enjoy similar success; even though they produce no industrial products, the juvenile training schools emphasize education, vocational training, and counseling.
Japanese correctional officers rely heavily on the community and on unsalaried volunteer probation officers for supervision of probationers and parolees. Although Japanese courts regard probationary supervision as too punitive for most convicted defendants and return many to the community without supervision, the probation caseload is weighty. Johnson describes the responsibilities and operations of the Regional Parole Boards. He also discusses the aid hostels (halfway houses) that are primarily operated by private organizations and that serve released or paroled prisoners.
Johnson sums up by noting that both the Correction Bureau and the Rehabilitation Bureau depend on the overall operations of police, prosecutors, and judges. More broadly, he asserts, both bureaus are creatures of Japanese society and culture. The assets and disadvantages of the bureaus reflect society’s reluctance to sentence defendants to prison and, to a lesser extent, the reluctance to place them on probationary supervision.