Why were lessons from the past not utilized at Nagoya Prison?

Why has there been a series of incidents in which prison officials assaulted inmates? The legal authorities must thoroughly examine the circumstances and take strict measures.

It has been revealed that 22 correctional officers at Nagoya Prison repeatedly assaulted three male inmates between November 2021 and August this year, hitting them in the face and hands and spraying alcohol on their faces.

The assaults occurred when the correctional officers and inmates were interacting one-on-one in the inmates’ rooms, and some of the officers are said to have assaulted the inmates more than 10 times. The officers have basically admitted to the allegations and reportedly said the inmates did not follow their instructions.

Many repeat offenders are incarcerated at Nagoya Prison, and some inmates are said to be difficult to deal with. However, no matter what the circumstances, abusing prisoners is unacceptable. It must be said that the officers lacked a sense of human rights.

Prosecutors must investigate the criminal responsibility of the correctional officers and other related individuals. There are many factors that need to be clarified, such as whether supervisors were aware of the assaults.

Two inmates were killed and one was injured in incidents at Nagoya Prison in 2001 and 2002, when prison guards sprayed water on an inmate with a fire hose and constricted inmates’ abdomens through the use of leather belts with handcuffs attached. Seven people have been convicted of crimes such as assault and cruelty by specialized public employees resulting in deaths and injuries.

In the wake of these incidents, the Law on Penal Detention Facilities and the Treatment of Inmates and Detainees was enacted, replacing the Prison Law that had been in force since the Meiji era (1868-1912). Under the new law, correctional officers are obliged to take into consideration the human rights of prisoners and undergo necessary training.

Nagoya Prison bears a grave responsibility for its failure to apply the lessons learned at the prison, the very facility that led to the establishment of the new law.

The correctional officers who assaulted the inmates were in their 20s and 30s, and many of them had been employed for less than three years. Some experts believe that insufficient training due to the COVID-19 pandemic was behind the assaults.

In March, a committee whose members included lawyers and doctors examined the prison’s operations and noted that inmates were dissatisfied with officials at the prison. However, Nagoya Prison reportedly responded that “there were no unjustified handlings.”

It is doubtful that the prison carried out an adequate examination. The Justice Ministry is launching a study group of experts to prevent a recurrence. It should investigate whether there are similar cases at other prisons.

The revised Penal Code, which unified two types of sentences — imprisonment with labor and imprisonment without labor — into the new sentence of “confinement,” will come into effect within the next three years. It will allow the handling of inmates with a flexible combination of the guidance measures necessary for correction.

This would be a major turning point that emphasizes the rehabilitation of inmates, rather than their punishment, but this idea is unlikely to be realized given the current state of correctional officers. It is essential for the entire organization to rethink improvement measures.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 18, 2022)