Special populations

Female prisoners

8.3 % (5,046)

Variation in the number of female prisoners


The number of female inmates has increased recently and the government faces a nationwide shortage of housing for female prisoners.
More women are being incarcerated for minor offenses including theft and traffic offences. Low pensions are a contributing factor for theft crimes amongst older women, especially widows.

Women are held in these following facilities:

  • penal institutions exclusively for women: 9
  • units exclusively for women

Saijo prison recently completed renovations for a new-women-only section where incarcerated mothers can care for their babies up until the age of 12 months. The prison can accommodate up to 83 inmates.

There is an effective separation between men and women


The prison staff is

mostly female

Conjugal visits are allowed for women


Pregnant women receive proper prenatal care


Childbirth takes place in

outside care facilities

Security staff is prohibited from entering the room during labour and childbirth


The use of instruments of restraint is forbidden during labour and childbirth


Under the Penal Detention Act, inmates must be handcuffed whilst being escorted in and out of prison and at all times when outside the prison facility. There is no exception for giving birth in a hospital, although the wardens present can decide to un-cuff the prisoner.

  • In January 2015, a father filed a complaint after his wife, an inmate in Kasamatsu prison in Gifu Prefecture, was made to give birth with handcuffs on. A representative of the ministry’s correction bureau confirmed they decided to change the policy after hearing of the case at Kasamatsu prison.

Mothers are allowed to keep their children with them

yes, until one year

The Prison Law states that mothers can keep their infant children with them up until the age of 12 months old. This right is not always respected in practice.

Due to overcrowding, special cells for mothers with babies are not always available.

Previously, female prisoners were sent across the Inland Sea to Wakayama Prefecture, making it hard for family members to visit.

The law bans the imprisonment of minors


Incarcerated minors

4.8 % (2,911)

Ministry in charge of incarcerated minors

Ministry of Justice

In Japan, juvenile prisoners are defined as young people less than 20 years of age. All juvenile cases are first sent to a family court, where the judge may decide that the juvenile be tried by the ordinary court (as an adult).

Juveniles not tried by ordinary court are detained in juvenile training schools (typical juvenile correctional institutions); these prisoners represented 2,872 at the end of 2014.
The 52 juvenile institutions are under the responsibility of the prison administration.

Minors in prison are separated from adults


Juveniles under 20 are kept separately from adults in prisons and regular detention centers.

The schooling of minors is compulsory


Some juvenile prisons have set up correspondence courses for high school education with the assistance of local high schools in the area. However, very often prisoners who are in need of education do not have the chance to attend those courses.

Minors under 18 cannot be sentenced to the death penalty.

Number and percentage of foreign prisoners

4 % (2,336)

This number includes foreign prisoners sentenced and held on remand, but does not include foreign nationals born and raised in Japan.

Foreign prisoners are informed of their right to communicate with their consular representatives


According to a recommendation of the National Police Agency, police officers are obliged to inform foreigners of their rights by virtue of the Geneva Convention on Consular Relations. It is not known whether this rule is rigorously applied in practice. If Japan does not maintain diplomatic relations with the detainee’s country, Japanese do not inform detainees of theirs rights.

Foreign prisoners are allowed to work while incarcerated


Foreigners who can speak Japanese are treated the same way as Japanese prisoners. Those who cannot speak Japanese are sent to particular prisons where they are required to follow Japanese language courses.
For foreign inmates, books and other reading materials in their native language can be directly purchased or donated by libraries and embassies.
Fuchu and Osaka prisons have separate accommodation blocks for foreign prisoners and some prisoners are kept in individual cells.

A long-term sentence is considered as such as of

10 years

Life sentences are banned


An administrative ordinance issued in 1998, without the introduction of a new law, effectively creating a new type of sentence, “life in prison without possibility for parole”.1

  1. “Life in prison without the possibility for parole”, whilst not unique to Japan, is considered to be inhuman and degrading treatment by the European Court of Human Rights. 

Percentage of untried prisoners

11.3 %


Untried prisoners are separated from the convicted


Daiyō kangoku (substitute prisons) are used for the detention of remand prisoners. These cells were originally intended for police custody. However, defendants are now being held there for periods of 10 to 20 days or more.

Pre-trial detention (called police custody in Japan) can last up to 23 days per case. This period can be extended many times.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee considers this current practice of the Daiyō kangoku to be absolutely unacceptable.

The confession procedure causes countless problems.
Defendants cannot benefit from the presence of a lawyer during interrogations who would protect them from forced confessions.
“Confessions” are written in the terms chosen by the police officer (statement report). This document is evidence in court. The “confessions” presented to the judges differ from the statement made by the accused, in his own words.

The police have complete freedom to refuse or accept visitors before the court decision is made, with the exception of designated lawyers. A refusal is justified on security or disciplinary grounds.
Authorized visitors to police stations or substitute prisons can normally bring clothing and photographs to their loved ones. Books are sometimes allowed. They can be refused if they are not written in Japanese. The rules regarding the clothing that prisoners may receive are strict (for example, no hooded clothing or laces).

No statistics are available, but there are thought to be a considerable number of LGBTI prisoners.

The prison service keeps a record of elderly prisoners


Elderly prisoners are only considered handicapped if they have specific problems or difficulties; otherwise they receive the same treatment as ordinary prisoners. Finding a nursing-home bed for ex-inmates is also difficult once they exit the prison system, as the waiting list is particularly long.
48 Regional Sustained Community Life Support Centers for elderly and handicapped ex-offenders have been created in 47 prefectures across Japan. Hokkaido has 2 centers to serve larger areas under the council Zenteikyo. These centers support elderly and handicapped ex-offenders in rejoining life in the outside world and helping to prevent recidivism.

Old age is not, independent from other circumstances, a valid reason for early release.

Among developed economies, Japan has one of the highest percentages of elderly prisoners. Crimes committed by senior citizens have increased significantly over the past two decades, with some prisons starting to more closely resemble nursing homes.
In 2015, almost one in five prisoners was over 60 years old. Elderly criminals are generally incarcerated for pickpocketing, shoplifting, bicycle theft and other minor offences. The recidivism rate for this population is high due to lack of rehabilitation opportunities for aged and intellectually disabled prisoners. This phenomenon is creating difficulties for the penitentiary administration, a growing number of prisoners suffer from dementia or need assistance for simple tasks such as walking, bathing and eating. As a result, prison health care expenses are growing.

Read our articleSurveillance and old age
An interview with Mr. Akaike Kazumasa, criminologist and specialist in the Japanese prison system.

Death penalty is abolished


Number of death sentences



Number of death sentenced prisoners awaiting execution



The JFBA, the Center for Prisoners’ Rights and many other organizations have requested the government immediately introduce a moratorium on executions and initiate a nationwide debate on the abolition of the death penalty, including disclosure of information concerning the death penalty to the general public.

Number of executions



Minors under 18 cannot be sentenced to the death penalty.

Inmates sentenced to death are usually only informed of the date and time of execution an hour before it actually takes place. This creates significant anxiety for those awaiting execution and is also damaging for family members who must suddenly face the execution of a loved one.
The government has held that this policy spares prisoners the anguish of knowing when they are going to die.

The maintenance of family bonds is guaranteed for persons sentenced to death. Nevertheless, they are deprived of a final visit.

Executions are performed by hanging and are carried out privately.
There are 19 offences legally punishable by death, however in practice, only offences involving homicide (usually multiple homicides) are subject to the death penalty.
The Japanese government refers to the popular support for the death penalty by its citizens as grounds for maintaining it.

A considerable number of inmates sentenced to death suffer mental health problems due to continuous solitary confinement, even though law allows death row prisoners to have contact with each other (Article 36, paragraph 3 of the 2007 Penal and Detention Facilities).
Lack of prior announcement can also deprive inmates of an opportunity to challenge the legitimacy of their execution. No pardon or reprieve has ever been granted for a death row inmate.
In December 2015, the execution of an inmate from the Tokyo Detention House marked the first execution in Japan after a lay judge trial (see Defense). His sentence was never reviewed since he did not exercise his right of appeal.
Despite repeated recommendations by the Committee Against Torture and the Human Rights Committee, the government of Japan has insisted that a mandatory appeal system is not required because most defendants exercise their right of appeal.