Japanese Correctional System as Compared to the American Corrections System
The Japanese correctional system places a strong emphasis on rehabilitation and preparing the prisoner for being released once again into society. The Japanese correctional system "is intended to resocialize, reform, and rehabilitate offenders" rather than enforce a system of retributive justice along the lines of the American model (Coutsoukis, 2004). This is why most sociologists state that the restorative philosophy of corrections is the predominant approach practiced in Japan, that is, the main aim of the system is to restore the pre-existing social order rather than enact retribution against a particular individual, or even to protect victim's rights, or to punish an offender in a fair manner (Hosoi & Nishimura 1999: 4).
Much like the American system, Japanese prisoners after conviction are classified "according to gender, nationality, kind of penalty, length of sentence, degree of criminality, and state of physical and mental health," and assigned to an appropriate facility, depending on all of these factors (Coutsoukis, 2004). They are then placed in special programs designed to treat individual needs, whether these needs are deemed to be mental health counseling, anger management, or vocational training. A large number of prisoners are given suspended sentences and are placed under the watch of probation officers rather than put directly into prison. Those citizens accused of minor offenses who confess and display remorse may be released without further official action (Hosoi & Nishimura 1999: 4).
In such minor cases, there is also a procedure called Jidan, or an informal settlement reached out of court to settle victim's claims for damages, "material or emotional, in either civil or penal cases. Jidan involves the victim's "temporary acceptance" of the offender's "expression of apology and offer of material reparations" (Hosoi & Nishimura 1999: 4). This acceptance of blame echoes the American civil litigation system, where acceptance of blame or refusal to accept blame may be a part of a settlement. However, in Japan Jidan can take place in criminal, even in penal cases, and is not a formal part of the legal process. It can occur before a trial, but the judge will have access to the Jidan terms of settlement and can take the offender's conduct into consideration when handing down a settlement. "Jidan is informal in nature but formal in the sense that depending on the circumstances it brings about a suspension of an indictment or lenient sentencing to the defendant" (Hosoi & Nishimura 1999: 4). For example, a criminal who makes a Jidan settlement may still be tried and convicted of a serious offence under the law, but receive a less harsh punishment because of his or her willingness to make reparations and a formal apology to the victim.
Jidan exemplifies the importance of remorse and the need for symbolic and real efforts of restoration on the part of the offender in the Japanese correctional system. Although offenders with a high risk of recidivism are usually placed under the care of professional probation officers upon their release, there is also a system of volunteer probation officers, who are often retirees, for offenders who seem remorseful and thus require more gentle treatment. These volunteer officers, like professional correctional officers, willingly take on the responsibility for monitoring the offender's conduct and help him or her establish a more positive relationship with society. They are not paid by the state. Both professional and volunteer probation officers act as surrogate teachers of the offender and act for the benefit of the community as well in the interests the offender, to promote stability and harmony.
In prison, as in the United States, vocational and formal education is offered in Japanese prisons, as is "instruction in social values," and mental health and cognitive therapy groups and programs are featured in American and Japanese prisons alike. Like the U.S., convicts in Japan often work, from which "a small stipend is set aside for use on release" (Coutsoukis, 2004). The principles of many Japanese prison vocational training programs differ than those found in the West and may be based in Buddhist values, where the acceptance of all individual's imperfections is acknowledged, regardless of their incarcerated status. Another unusual feature of the Japanese system is that the prisons are governed by a system of under a system stressing incentives, where "prisoners are initially assigned to community cells, then earn…