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Prison Reform in The East and West

Mar 2, 2008
In order to understand the failings of the modern Western Prison system, it is fruitful to examine the results obtained in Japan, where better reform rates are to be found.

It is difficult to associate the light-hearted Japanese women with the dark, forbidding and depressing side of life suggested by prison. But even in the Land of the Rising Sun crime and the punishment of it have to be reckoned with, and the question of reforming woman criminals is a prominent one in Japan.

Penology has made rapid advances there of recent years because the Japanese have the capacity of assimilating the best methods of other countries in every subject they seriously consider. They realize that the prevention of crime is even more important than its cure, and the drift of their legislation is toward nipping crime in the bud. They have grasped the fundamental principle that much crime is due to adverse social conditions, and their idea is to lessen temptations to crime by improving the social and economic state of the people and by probationary methods.

With regard to their treatment of women and girls sentenced to prison for such crimes as theft, drunkenness, arson (a very common and serious crime in Japan, where many traditional tiny wooden houses blaze and burn in a few minutes, and fire spreads quickly from house to house), reformatory methods are rapidly being employed all over the country. When I visited Ichigaya, one of the chief prisons for women in Japan, I was much struck by the humane and curative system that has been organized of recent years. The first impression of the prison contrasts markedly with one's idea of a prison in this country.

There are no massive buildings and glass windows with iron bars, no bare stone floors, no long corridors and tiny cells where the prisoners spend long hours in solitary confinement. The buildings surround a central court-yard, and are built of wooden planks or standards, cage fashion, so that the prisoners are living an open air life day and night. The floors are covered with corn-colored matting and the woodwork is polished till every grain is visible. The prisoners wear pink crepe kimonos, which contrast with their ivory faces and gleaming hair.

We were taken to one large room where three rows of pink-clad figures were squatting Japanese fashion on pink cushions on the floor. They greeted us with shy smiles and soft murmurs of ' Ohayo,' the Japanese ' Good-day' while they simultaneously bowed the blue black heads to the ground. Politeness is one of the chief virtues in Japan, and in the prisons special lessons are given in manners and deportment, and classes are even held to teach the art of tea serving, which is an important ceremony with the Japanese. The idea is that whatever raises the self-respect of the prisoner, whatever improves her behavior and manners, aids her reformation. The teaching is very comprehensive. Lessons are given in weaving, dressmaking and sewing, and we saw some exquisite embroideries made in the prison and artistic garments cut kimono fashion.

The prisoners work in sheds all day, so that the cells are practically sleeping apartments, and it has been found that working in association under official control makes for reform and health. Prison in Japan is an educational agency and the women work and are paid wages for what they do. Prizes and decorative awards are also given as an incentive to good work and conduct.

The Japanese of today could teach us a great deal in the matter of penology. They allow their prisoners more liberty, they show a more sympathetic interest in their welfare, than we do. Everything is done to teach them industry and morality. As their behavior improves they are given better food and various privileges. Everything and every prisoner is scrupulously clean.

When compared to rising crime rates in the West, which bases its criminal reform system on punishment and revenge, I'm sure you will agree that this system of rehabilitation is more effective.
About the Author
Malcolm Blake is concerned about the rise in criminality around the world. It is this concern that has led him to research what an average citizen can do to safeguard his or her safety. In his article about the reverse phonebook sites, he outlines a tool that can help to check up on the background of anyone.
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