Increasing Fear of Crime, Getting Tough onCriminals and Rising Prison Population: Overcrowding in Japanese Prisons

Koichi Hamai, Ministry of Justice of Japan

Japan has enjoyed the reputation of the safest country in the world for a longtime. Crime and prison population havenever been a political agenda until very recently. Actually, the government was planning to close down a certainnumber of prisons. However, since 1990,after a consistent economic slump, people in Japan appears to be losingconfidence in its economy as well as in its safety. Newspapers are reporting a lot about the rising tide of violentcrimes, decreasing the figures of clearance rates by the police and overcrowdingin prisons. It has been asserted that “Japan’sMyth of the safest society in the world” is finally becoming corrupted. Along with this, people are more worry aboutcrime and have begun to think that public safety has been worsened. According to the survey conducted by theInformation Research Office of the Cabinet, in December 2000, the percentage ofresponses to the statement, “Publ! ic safety (security) is getting worse,”increased from 18.8% in1998 to 26.6% in 2000. People are demanding tougher sentences for offenders to protect theircommunities. Accordingly, the prison population in Japan, which had been stableand never experienced overcrowding for more than 30 years, has begun to risesince 1993, just after the bubble economy burst. Now, the Japanese prison system is suffering from overcrowding inits prisons. This paper will explorewho are sending people in prisons and why they are doing so, especially byfocusing on the relationship between prison population and fear of crime.

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Updated 05/20/2006