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Japan’s Detention Center Holds Many Without Convictions

2019-6-16

Former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn recently was held in the Tokyo Detention House, which looks like a high-security prison. Most of its inmates, however, are like Ghosn: they are being held there but have not been convicted of a crime.

Japan has a system that often refuses bail while suspects await trial. Law enforcement officials may hold suspects for months. Many international observers have criticized this system calling it, “hostage justice.”

International reporters got a rare tour of the plain, but orderly detention building on Monday. They were shown the floors that do not house detainees, or inmates.

Each cell is for one inmate. It has a toilet, bedding, a shelf and a sink. A window looks out into a small area of sky. Simple meals of rice and soup with a small piece of meat or fish are served out of a sliding window.

A solitary cell for inmate is opened to the media during a press tour in Tokyo, Monday, June 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
A solitary cell for inmate is opened to the media during a press tour in Tokyo, Monday, June 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Ghosn spent more than 100 days at the detention center over several separate detention periods. He says he is innocent of financial crimes.

Currently, Ghosn is out awaiting trial. But 1,216 of the 1,758 current inmates have not been convicted. They are in prison and are awaiting trial.

A single cell measures 7.5 square meters. The tour also showed a small exercise area. Inmates can go there for just 30 minutes a day.

There is also a small store where visitors and inmates can buy snacks.

Many nations have bad detention conditions. In Thailand, for example, suspects can be held in chains as they wait for a trial.

Detentions can also be long in the United States, especially for people suspected of serious crimes such as terrorism. But generally, a person is considered innocent and has the right to have a lawyer present when they are questioned. A suspect is freed within 72 hours if there is no charge.

Suspects in Japan can be questioned by officials without a lawyer present. They can be held up to 23 days for each possible charge without the possibility of bail. Government lawyers can add charges to lengthen the detention.

The interrogation rooms where suspects are questioned were not shown during the tour.

Warden Shigeru Takenaka agreed conditions could be improved. But, he said that public opinion would not accept “fancy” conditions.

Those suspected of a crime are ostracized in Japan. The social shame means few people speak out against conditions in the center.

Those who do say they felt without hope at the Tokyo Detention House.

Yuji Hosono is a former representative partner at the financial company KPMG Japan. He was detained for 90 days after he was accused of faking financial records. He said he thought it would never end.

He was convicted after taking his case to the Supreme Court.

He said some workers at the Tokyo Detention House were nice. When going to be questioned, they told him to “hang in there.”

Foreigners make up 14% of those at the detention house. About one third of the inmates are from China, followed by Vietnam and South Korea. Americans make up 4% of the foreign inmates.

The most common charge is theft, followed by drug use.

Takenaka stressed that his inmates were safe, unlike American prisons where violence is common.

“They don’t have to defend themselves as in the West. They are protected,” he told reporters.

I’m Susan Shand.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

inmate– n. a person who is kept in a prison or mental hospital

bail- n. the amount of money a person must pay to leave prison before a trial

tour– n. a journey through different parts of a place

snack– n.food eaten between meals

chain – n.a series of metal links used to keep a person from moving

interrogation–n. to ask someone questions in a thorough or forceful way

fancy – adj.luxurious, not common

ostracize – v.to isolate someone because of their actions

shame – n.to be embarrassed by behavior