Concerns Rise at Nagano Prison: Suspected Death and Withheld Letter | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Concerns Rise at Nagano Prison: Suspected Death and Withheld Letter

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Suspicion of “abuse” against inmate with mental and physical disabilities…

At the end of October last year, a male inmate in his 60s died at Nagano Prison (Suzaka City, Nagano Prefecture). The prison initially announced that the death was most likely due to illness, but it is still fresh in our minds that the cause of death was increasingly suspected to be freezing to death due to hypothermia, which drew numerous criticisms.

Upon further investigation, we learned that in late December of last year, a press conference was held by the NPO Prison Human Rights Center to report on the abuse of mentally and physically disabled inmates at Nagano Prison, including yelling into their ears with a loudspeaker and not feeding them lunch.

When we asked the NPO Prisoners’ Rights Center for an interview, Yuichi Kaito, the center’s representative, and Hiroko Kotake, an attorney who is conducting a detailed investigation of the case, responded.

There were two routes that led to the suspicion of abuse by staff.

One was a story I heard from a person who was released from Nagano Prison last summer. He told me that the staff in charge of handicapped people were intentionally bullying them by saying, ‘You can’t do this,’ getting angry with them, and not feeding them food, and that they were systematically turning a blind eye to it.

When I told this to Mr. Kaito, another route was that a former judge, a famous lawyer named Akira Kitani, had received a letter of accusation from a person named Mr. A. The content of the letter was the same as the story I had heard.

The person who sent the letter to Dr. Kitani was different from the one I had heard about. In fact, he had sent letters with the same contents to various organizations, including the Prison Human Rights Center, the Association of Victims of False Accusation, the press club at the Nagano Prefectural Police Headquarters, NHK, and the Human Rights Protection Division of the Nagano District Legal Affairs Bureau, but all of them had been suppressed.

The reason for the injunction was that it was not true that abuse was taking place, but to inform the outside world about it would disrupt order in the prison,” said attorney Kotake.

Letters addressed to the Center for Prisoner Rights, the Association of Victims of Wrongful Convictions, the press club at Nagano Prefectural Police Headquarters, NHK, and others (PHOTO: courtesy of attorney Hiroko Kotake).

The “letter” and its “blacked-out contents” that were withheld

In a letter written by Ms. A to her mother, she wrote about the abuse, and when she submitted a request on July 21, she was asked to rewrite part of the letter on July 25.

However, Ms. A also asked her mother for a retrial in the letter, but when she thought it was strange that she never received a reply, she discovered that the letter had been left as it was for nearly two months and had been withheld without being sent out. When she filed a complaint with the Attorney General, the part of the letter that touched on the abuse was blacked out and sent to the mother.

The injunction was discovered when the investigation was set in motion by a letter of accusation sent by Ms. A to various people, which reached Attorney Kitani and matched what Attorney Kotake heard through another channel.

Attorney Kaito adds, “I think Mr. A is very smart.

I think Mr. A is extremely intelligent.

He wrote a letter to Akira Kitani, the lawyer representing him in the false accusation case, to clear his name, and part of the letter contained the fact that the abuse was taking place.

Since we could not withhold the letter asking for a false accusation, only the letter addressed to Dr. Kitani was sent out, probably among the letters that Mr. A tried to send.

Then, Dr. Kitani read it and said, ‘This is a big deal,’ and he circulated the letter to me and my daughter, Futaba Kaito, who had been assisted by Dr. Kitani in the retrial case, and because it matched what Mr. Kotake had heard about another route, Mr. Kotake and Futaba Kaito decided to go to Nagano together,” (Attorney Kaito (Lawyer)

Subsequently, the Prisoners’ Rights Center interviewed them, held a press conference, etc., and when a request for review was filed on the grounds that the injunction was wrong, there was a ruling at the level of the Minister of Justice to revoke the injunction. The letter was returned to Mr. A’s possession for the first time.

He said, “This appears to be a case where an attempt to contact outside human rights groups and the media about what was going on inside the prison was illegally enjoined. Because they have acknowledged this, they are rescinding the original disposition, which I think is very important news.

A Mr. A’s hard work made us aware of this case, and Mr. Kotake was able to go to the site, interview the children, and investigate the facts,” said Attorney Kaito.

The part of the document that conveys the fact that abuse was taking place was blacked out…

The “cover-up” is very similar to past cases.

Nevertheless, Attorney Kaito sighs that there is a sense of déjà vu in what happened at Nagano Prison this time.

The situation was similar in Nagoya Prison, where three inmates were killed or injured in an assault by a prison guard from 2001 to 2002, and in Fuchu Prison, where a guard burned an inmate five years ago.

The Prisoners’ Rights Center receives about 1,000 letters a year, but not a single one from Nagoya Prison, which had repeatedly committed particularly egregious abuses. This is an example of repeated human rights violations that were not allowed to get out, and Nagano may have been no different,” said Kaito.

Usually, nearly 90% of the letters that reach the Prison Human Rights Center are about human rights violations. The majority of these letters can be resolved to some extent by writing a simple reply or sending a manual, but the number of letters that cannot be handled by the office and are passed on to the lawyers is said to be only a few per month.

However, the letters that are sent to the lawyers are only a few per month, he said. “In such a situation, the fact that a letter containing extremely serious information about abuse of a handicapped person was withheld is a serious crime,” he stressed.

Regarding the frozen deaths, Mr. A sent a letter of information to Attorney Kotake.

Mr. A wrote to me with a diagram, saying that the Nagano prison’s explanation was false.

There is a corridor outside the prison room, and there is a window on the other side of the corridor. The windows are supposed to be opened by prison guards and cannot be opened or closed by inmates, but the window there was open, he said.

There is a vent in the living room, which is also open, and outside air comes straight in. The deceased was not a long time prison inmate, so he did not know that he could open and close the vent in his room by himself, and he was exposed to the outside air coming in through the hallway window all through the night, which probably caused hypothermia.

I checked and found that the outside temperature in October ’23 was about 10 degrees Celsius, and 8-9 degrees Celsius at dawn. Although this is not the kind of temperature one would imagine as freezing to death, I think the temperature was low enough to deprive the victim of body heat,” said attorney Kotake.

Inmates who remain silent and patient because of the disadvantages they face…and the attention they will receive if they appeal.

When the suspicion of freezing to death was reported, a member of the Diet visited Nagano Prison, which prompted the prison to begin operating in late March to keep the temperature in inmates’ rooms at around 21 degrees Celsius. However, there are many human rights violations against inmates, and many inmates remain silent and put up with such violations because they will be noticed and suffer disadvantages if they complain, according to Attorney Kotake.

The “Penal Institution Inspection Committee” was created to solve such problems, but unfortunately, it is not functioning in some respects.

When the Prison Law, which was promulgated and enforced in 1908, was revised in 2006, the Law Concerning Penal Institutions and Treatment of Inmates and Detainees came into effect, creating a Penal Institution Inspection Committee in each prison.

This committee was established in all prisons, and its members include lawyers recommended by the bar association, doctors recommended by the medical association, government officials, researchers, and others.

If this inspection committee were functioning well, various abuses could be prevented, and although there have been cases where the committee has made improvements, in the case of the Nagano prison, there was no report from the inspection committee. I think there is a possibility that the opinions of the inspection committee will be given more weight in the future.

Some have pointed out that there is a shortage of labor, but Attorney Kotake denies this.

The manpower shortage should have been eliminated. I think it is more a matter of culture and constitution. Basically, prison officials see inmates as people who have committed crimes and are of a lower rank, so I feel that there is a kind of discriminatory mindset that allows them to treat inmates that way.

However, there is a movement underway to change this culture, according to Attorney Kaito.

The Ministry of Justice and the Department of Correctional Services are now working hard to drastically change the culture and structure of prisons. For example, as of April 1 of this year, they are trying to expand the practice of addressing prisoners as “san” throughout the country.

They are also trying to set up learning opportunities in prisons across the country where prison officers can hear from those who have experienced prison sentences and consider whether there are aspects of their own behavior that need to be changed.

However, there are many people who are vehemently opposed to these efforts,” said Attorney Kaito.

What is the power that refuses to “improve the constitution” of prisons…

Forty years ago, when Lawyer Kaito began dealing with prison issues, outrageous human rights violations were rampant, but now there are people who proudly say that their lives have changed and they have been rehabilitated as a result of being in prison.

A good example of this is the rehabilitation education programs such as TC (recovery community) offered at the “Shimane Asahi Social Rehabilitation Promotion Center.

In 2008, the documentary film “Prison Circle,” directed by Kaoru Sakaue and set at the Shimane-Asahi facility, was released and won the Grand Prize for Documentary Film from the Agency for Cultural Affairs.

On the other hand, however, many people are opposed to such efforts.

One would imagine that the motivation for becoming a prison guard would be the desire to rehabilitate inmates, but in the past there were many who did not.

For example, people who were motivated by judo or kendo and wanted to put it to work. In fact, all prisons have judo and kendo halls attached to them, and judo and kendo competitions are treated as more important than staff training.

The Ministry of Justice feels that this must be changed, because there is a part of the culture that is shaped by the priority given to judo and kendo skills, and people with such power control the prisons.

So we stopped giving priority quotas to jūkendo, but since we are dealing with prison organizations throughout the country, it seems to be a difficult task amid strong opposition.” (Attorney Kaito)

He continued, “In Japan today, each facility can be a good prison if a humane and liberal warden comes, and a hell if someone with an old-fashioned constitution comes. Depending on which prison you go to and at what time of the year, you can never predict what kind of prison experience you will have, it’s like a prison warring age.

When Mr. Kaito said this, Mr. Kotake nodded his head and added, “Of course it depends on the warden.

Of course it depends on the warden, but there is also the unchanging nature of the people who have worked there for a long time. I think there is a struggle going on right now between those who are trying to introduce new approaches and culture and those who are still in the old prison culture.

According to Attorney Kotake, Mr. A was suddenly transferred to Chiba Prison at the end of April.

Mr. A feels that this transfer was in retaliation for his accusations of abuse at Nagano Prison, and he is in shock.

A thorough investigation into the cause of the tragedies that have occurred one after another at Nagano Prison must be conducted. In addition, we hope that the prison organization as a whole will take these as a warning and quickly reform its awareness so that there will never be any retaliation against inmates who accuse others of problems.

  • Interview and text by Wakako Tako

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