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Monday, January 2, 2012

Japan's Death Row - A Look Inside

View of a death chamber, Tokyo, Japan.
Hi there. Many of you know I have a fascination for the serial killer and other murderers. No, I don't like what they have done or want to meet one... well, not really. But, I am fascinated at how one human being can murder another human being, let alone commit multiple murders.

I suppose I am intrigued by the human mind and all of its depravities. Like I said, it doesn't mean I like or respect these warped individuals... only that I am curious as to what makes them tick..

Having said that, I am also curious about the manner of their incarceration, or in the case of Japan, the manner of their execution. For example, Japan hangs those it deems unfit or unworthy of rehabilitation.

I've written about all of Japan's serial killers HERE, and about one its most infamous rape gangs HERE.

I've learned as much as possible about what drives them - great on the drive, but very little actual information on why or what gives them this feeling of entitlement.

But, what about how these prisoners are executed? Back on August 27, 2010, members of Japan's media were, for the first time ever given a peek into the execution chamber of a Tokyo jail.

First... some background. I've always found this odd, but when trying to get the date of death of someone executed, there are often few definitive answers. That is because Japan tries to avoid the media circus as much as possible.

To accomplish that, the death row prisoners are not told of the their date of execution until the last possible minute, and their relatives are only told after the actual hanging. In fact, anywhere between two or three executions are carried out at a time.

This practice of secrecy has been condemned by many in the international community citing that the failure to give advanced notice of an execution contravenes Articles 2, 7 and 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Human Rights according to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

Consider also that the average time (according to best guesses of some reports on Japan's justice system) a prisoner who has received the death penalty actually spends awaiting the actual execution is seven years and 11 months.    

The oldest prisoner was said to be Ishida Tomizo (surname first), who is 86 as of December 2007. He was convicted for rape and double murder in the early 1970s and sentenced to death in 1980. To be honest, I could find no information on the Internet as to whether or not his sentence was executed, whether he died naturally, or if he is still awaiting his execution. 

For further reference, Hakamada Iwao (袴田 巖 , born on March 10, 1936) is a former Japanese professional boxer, who was sentenced to death for a June 10, 1966 mass murder of four people. He was sentenced to death on September 11, 1968. as of 2009 he had been in prison for 42 years, the longest imprisonment among condemned prisoners in Japan. Part of the problem may be that he may have been falsely charged, as the physical evidence was changed from pajamas to clothes - and the clothes did not fit him. I could not find a death date for him, so I can only assume he is still alive, or his death notice has been withheld.

Apparently the Minister of Justice may refuse to sign a death warrant if they personally suspect that the conviction is not secure.

A Look Inside
Nowadays, local television stations broadcast footage showing the room where death row inmates are hanged. 
Witnesses can view from the top or bottom.

 In Japan, where criminal trials have a 99 per cent conviction rate (take that Perry Mason!), many in Japan's public office oppose the death penalty, official surveys note that there is strong public support in favor of it, at well over 80 per cent. 
There are currently seven execution facilities in Japan. Hanging is the form of execution, with the prisoner dropping through a trapdoor with a carefully measured noose about the neck that will break the neck instantly as the trap door is opened.  

During the recent 30-minute tour, the media was shown the red square on the floor where a convict stands with a noose around their neck before the trapdoor opens beneath them (see first photo above). The room behind the glass (in the photo to the left) shows a viewing chamber for witnesses.

Buddhist Altar
The media was also shown a room with a Buddhist altar where condemned prisoners can meet a religious representative (below right).

"There was the smell of incense. The impression was that of sterile objects in a clean, carpeted room," says a reporter from NTV.

Footage also showed the room where three staff each push a button which releases the trapdoor - although none of the three actually knows which one's button causes the door to open.

The noose was not shown.

The noose is held in place by this coupling.
As of December 2011, a total of 107 inmates remain on death row in Japan.

According  to Amnesty International, prisoners on the death penalty live under "a harsh regime and in solitary confinement with the ever-present fear of execution. They never know if each day will be their last."

Some reports in the Japanese media have described how the prisoners are kept in "toilet-sized cells".  Prisoners are not allowed to talk with one another.
However, it should be noted that the death row prisoners are not kept in prisons - they await execution at a detention center. Surprisingly (or not), these death row inmates have fewer rights than other prisoners, with reports stating that death row prisoners only get two two periods of exercise a week - three in the summer - and are not allowed to even do limited exercise within their cells - that they must remain seated. 

However, it varies from detention center to detention center, depending on the rules set forth by the facility director.

Up until a few years ago, the names of the executed were not released (hence my problem in finding accurate death dates for a previous blog).

Former Japanese Justice Minister Hatoyama Kunio (surname first) said it was done "to gain the understanding of the bereaved families of the victims and the public over the appropriateness of executions".

Amnesty International at the time acknowledged that the change in policy over the naming of those executed represents a shift towards more openness - but it adds that there is a long way to go.

Japan, percentage-wise has a far smaller proportion of its citizens in jail than the United Kingdom or the United States. 

But critics of Japan's justice system are concerned about its reliance on confessions, with allegations that confessions are often coerced from suspects by police and prosecutors. Those who oppose the death penalty here say there are not enough safeguards to prevent innocent people being put to death.

International human rights standards prohibit the imposition of the death penalty on the mentally ill. Amnesty International says that the conditions - and length of their detention - that death penalty prisoners endure is making them mentally unwell and delusional.  

According to Japan's code of criminal procedure, if a person condemned to death is in a state of insanity, the execution shall be stayed by the justice minister.

But, Amnesty International says that executions of inmates who exhibit signs of mental illness - caused by the extreme conditions and the sheer length of their detention - continue. 

Files compiled by Andrew Joseph

1 comment:

  1. Asahara Shoko of the infamous 1995 sarin gas attacks is blowing the death sentence wait average out of the water! This guy is still sitting around in some Japanese prison.