"Rokuju-oku" yen. In Arabic numerals, 6,000,000,000 yen. That, proclaims Shukan Shincho (Feb 23) is the approximate annual cost incurred by Japanese taxpayers for incarcerating foreign malefactors in the nation's penal facilities.
The figure is calculated by taking the of 6,020 incarcerated foreigners (current as of June 2005) and budgeting 1,200 yen per day for their meals, utilities, medical treatment, etc, while behind bars. To this is added the costs for temporary incarceration of illegal sojourners, said to be 2.03 billion yen, and the administrative costs for investigations, trials, appeals, etc, including outlays for interpreter fees and translation of documentation, estimated at about 3.6 billion yen.
As big as that figure may seem, it still comes to a tiny fraction -- less than 1% -- of the Ministry of Justice's working budget of 750 billion yen. However, the magazine points out that the basic function of Japan's penal system is not just punishment, but to "rehabilitate" criminals to enable their return to society. And since the majority of foreign criminals are, upon release, usually deported to their home country, they have nothing to contribute to Japan's labor pool. Ergo, any funding directed to their rehabilitation may just be considered money down the drain.
Before 1989, foreigners tended to be convicted at the rate of about 100 per year. But from the 1990s, the figure showed a marked rise and from 1997 onwards, posting consecutive year-on increases. By 2003, Japanese prisons held some 1,600 foreign inmates, making up roughly 5% of the total prison population.
In addition to Fuchu prison in Tokyo, 12 facilities house foreign inmates, including those at Fukushima, Yokohama, Osaka, Hiroshima, Takamatsu and Fukuoka.
In 2010, foreigners were said to account for 3,786, or 4.4% of the total prison population. New arrivals that year included 195 Chinese nationals, followed in descending order (figures not shown) by Brazilians, Iranians, Koreans (both north and south) and Vietnamese. The most common offense was theft.
Along with Fuchu and Osaka prisons supplementing their staff with speakers of Farsi, Romanian, Turkish, and several Nigerian tribal languages to accommodate the language barrier, prison administrators are obliged to cater to particular dietary and religious preferences.
"When we have Muslim prisoners, we keep pork off the menu," says the officer in charge of foreign matters at Fukushima prison. "We also had to make adjustments in the routines for the month when they are fasting, and for their five daily prayer times."
Shukan Shincho also repeats an oft-raised assertion: that the supposedly cozy conditions of prisons in Japan, plus pay for the work performed, do not serve as much of a deterrent to foreign criminals.
"Chinese judges have had opportunities to observe Japanese prisons, and I once accompanied one," says attorney Tomoko Sasaki, a former prosecutor at the Yokohama District Court. "'This place is like heaven,' he told me. I suppose there are Chinese who want to take up long-term residence.'"
A Japanese judge points out that since prisoners are paid for the labor they perform, "thanks to the current exchange rate, some may accrue enough savings to buy a house in their country by the time of their discharge."
"Due to the hollowing out of Japanese industry, the number of companies using prison labor has been declining," he adds. "It's no joke to say that Japan should outsource its prisons to China and Thailand as well."
Actually, many foreign first offenders on charges of theft or prostitution are given suspended sentences and then deported, which can be regarded as a "cost-cutting measure," in a manner of speaking. On the other hand, more than a few of these deported foreigners re-enter Japan on forged passports or by other means, and repeat their criminal behavior.
"Stopping illegal entrants before they get ashore is the best means of reducing foreign crimes," says attorney Sasaki.© Japan Today