Elmer H. Johnson



Managing Prisoners in Japan: “Attica” Is Not Probable

The author provides a national example that differs greatly from the situation in the UK, Canada, and the United States. Japanese prisons are relatively tranquil; aggression against staff and other convicts is rare, and riots are unheard of. Certainly, the very close supervision, ritualism, and severe sanctioning of deviance account for part of the quiescence. As Johnson observes, sociocultural factors are of greater importance. Japanese culture stresses vertical social ties based on loyalty and paternalism. This source of cohesion combines with the policy of encouraging social interaction between guards and prisoners (highly discouraged in Western penal systems) to effect a high degree of compliance with official values and norms. Perhaps the principal reason for the tranquility of Japan’s prison system is that its criminal justice policy has not been politicized. Authorities are free to emphasize prison diversion and to impose relatively short sentences, eliminating overcrowding and widespread resentment as sources of frustration and instability. These policies are not likely to be adopted by Canada, the UK, or the United States without a radical structural transformation of their societies.

comparative penology, Japan, United States, Yakuza

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 18, No. 3 (1991): 156-171


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