TV & Radio
Japan studies San Diego policy on sex offenders
Delegation in U.S. after horrific slaying
By Dana Littlefield
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
September 19, 2005
The residents of the Japanese city of Nara were reeling after the brutal slaying of a 7-year-old girl last year. The first-grader's body was found in a roadside ditch about four miles from her home.
Two months later, police arrested a man the Japanese media reported had admitted killing the girl. He was a 36-year-old newspaper deliveryman with a history of violence against children.
The public raised this question: Why weren't Nara residents made aware that a man with past arrests for child molestation and attempted murder was living in their midst?
The answer is that Japanese officials – unlike those in the United States – – are forbidden from notifying the public when a sex offender has been released from custody or changes neighborhoods. But after the public uproar over the death of Kaede Ariyama, the government is taking a second look at its policies.
Japan's Ministry of Justice is sending teams to the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom to see how they deal with sex offenders inside and outside the prison walls.
Last week Tetsuya Fujimoto, a Japanese criminologist and law professor at Chuo University in Tokyo, huddled with San Diego officials.
Fujimoto sits on a new council of mostly psychiatrists and psychologists to develop a comprehensive sex offender program for Japan next year.
"I introduced Megan's Law to (a) Japanese audience about five years ago," Fujimoto said in an interview.
He learned about the law, which allows the American public to view names, photos and addresses of some sex offenders on the Internet, while doing research at the Oakland Police Department.
Fujimoto and his colleagues met with District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, and observed a meeting with members of the San Diego Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement Task Force, a group that monitors sex offenders.
The team decided to visit San Diego after contacting The Center for Sex Offender Management in Maryland. They learned of San Diego County's Sex Offender Management Council, a committee representing the District Attorney's Office, Probation Department, the state parole agency, local police agencies and various treatment providers, among others.
"It was certainly a compliment to San Diego because we're doing more than most jurisdictions," said Susan Storm, a therapist and director of the county's management council.
The group formed in 2001 with a $250,000 grant from the Maryland center. About 20 members meet monthly to discuss countywide efforts to monitor and treat sex offenders and devise ways of reducing the risk that they will re-offend.
That kind of collaboration is crucial, said Erik Fox, a member of the council and a professor at the University of Phoenix. Fox is part of a state organization that has pushed legislation to create a statewide sex offender management board similar to San Diego's.
The bill was awaiting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature, Fox told the Japanese guests during a meeting last week.
On Monday, the delegation attended two hearings in San Diego Superior Court involving Matthew Hedge and Douglas Badger, sexually violent predators currently housed at Atascadero State Hospital. At one of the hearings, a judge approved a proposal to place Hedge, who is expected to be released from the hospital next month, on state-owned property near an Otay Mesa prison.
Reviewing all he had experienced on the visit, Fujimoto said that although there seems to be a lot of treatment available to sex offenders who have been released in San Diego County, little if any treatment exists within the prison system.
Others agreed, saying that the state Department of Corrections has been slow to embrace change. Some hope the recent addition of the words, "and Rehabilitation" to the department's name is a sign of change.
Storm noted that the state began offering treatment programs for sex offenders in prison within the past few years. There is also talk of relocating all sex offenders in custody to one facility where comprehensive therapy would be available.
"Rehabilitation is very important to the Japanese people," Fujimoto said. "Canada has a very good program for the correctional institutions. We might adopt the American system for probation."
Adopting a public notification system for sex offenders in Japan may be trickier. Currently, the Japanese government notifies the victims, certain relatives and the public defender when a sex offender has been released from custody. There are no laws requiring them to register with the government upon their release.
Fujimoto said the Japanese government and its citizens empathize with Kaede's family. The killer used a cell phone to send text messages to the girl's parents, one of which read, "I have your daughter."
After finding the girl's body, police determined that the killer held her face underwater and drowned her. Four teeth had been removed from Kaede's mouth and the edges of her mouth were cut, according to Japanese news reports.
The public asked: "How come the Ministry of Justice didn't do anything?" Fujimoto said. "That's why we're here," adding that the public was made aware of the ministry's special mission.
"Of course we have sympathy for the victim and the family . . . ," he said. "But (members of the public) don't speak up. The government has an opinion and the public will follow.
"It is the Japanese way," he said.
Dana Littlefield: (619) 542-4590; firstname.lastname@example.org