TV & Radio
Keys to prevention: From education to surveillance to hormone 'treatment,' debate rages over how to stop sex offenders from striking again.
11/29/2005(IHT/Asahi: November 29,2005)
By KATSUHIRO IGATA, AKANE SUJINO and SATSUKI FUJITA
The Asahi Shimbun
NARA--A full year after the shock and outrage following a 7-year-old Nara girl's abduction and murder by a previously convicted sex offender, the national effort to prevent sex crime recidivism is off to a slow, difficult start.
Some steps have been taken, to be sure. The Justice Ministry began informing the National Police Agency (NPA) in June whenever sex offenders who have assaulted children are about to be released from prison.
And in April next year, a revision to the Prison Law will make correctional education mandatory in prisons nationwide.
Police officials admit, however, that it is difficult to maintain a balance between keeping tabs on sex offenders and not hindering their social rehabilitation.
"We could do no more than go to their home and check their doorplates, that's about all," a senior Kinki region prefectural police official said of the police's responsibility to monitor pedophiles' whereabouts.
The high-profile Nara murder case that sparked the so-far tentative efforts was particularly gruesome.
The first-grader was kidnapped and killed on her way home from school on Nov. 17, 2004. Her body was discovered in a roadside ditch the next day. Her family was sent threatening messages and photos of her via e-mail.
Kaoru Kobayashi, 36, a former newspaper deliveryman, was later arrested and charged in the case. He pleaded guilty. Kobayashi had twice before been convicted for assaulting children.
His arrest brought into focus the need to prevent sex crime recidivism.
Under the Justice Ministry-NPA program, prisons inform police of the scheduled release of inmates convicted of sexually assaulting children under 13.
Between June and October, the ministry says it sent reports on about 80 cases to the NPA.
The information includes the date of release and the inmates' intended residence, but little else. No photos are included.
Also, in order to avoid hindering the pedophiles' social reintegration, the NPA issued a directive ordering officers to "try to be considerate, and avoid contact with their family, neighbors and workplace as much as possible."
The whereabouts of nearly 10 pedophiles released since June are unknown, according to a police source. Yet, there have been few steps taken to trace them, said one source.
By comparison, the United States, Britain and some other nations have much tougher programs to prevent repeat offenses.
In the United States, the names and addresses of the perpetrators of serious sex crimes are made known to community residents. In Britain, an experiment is under way to trace habitual offenders with the satellite-based global positioning system.
Japan's program is less harsh, both to encourage rehabilitation and, as a ministry official explained, "because it takes a lot of time and trouble, like legal revisions," to create systems comparable to those of other nations.
Some lawmakers and experts suggest Japan needs to consider using hormone-curbing substances and other drugs to "treat" repeat offenders, though the Justice Ministry is wary of such ideas.
For now, Hidemichi Morosawa, a professor of criminology at the Tokiwa University graduate school, says information on repeated sex offenders should be given to schools and other organizations that deal with children.
At the same time, he said, the government and the private sector should strengthen their cooperation to help with ex-convicts' integration back into society.
Government subsidies to businesses that employ ex-inmates would certainly help, he said.
Koichi Kikuta, professor emeritus of criminology at Meiji University, is critical of the program to inform police of the imminent release of sex offenders.
"(Such) information could prejudice police, possibly leading to the arrest of an innocent person," Kikuta said.
"There is no panacea for recidivism prevention, because there is a complicated mentality behind sex offenses," he said. "It would be more effective to improve correctional education by gearing programs toward individuals."
But this correctional education is rarely provided. As of March, only 13 of the nation's 74 prisons had education programs for sex offenders. One of those 13 is the Shiga prison in Otsu, where Kobayashi was imprisoned for sexual assault in 1991.
It provides five hourlong lecture and discussion classes over a three-month period. Inmates watch videos that describe the mental scars sexual abuse leaves with victims. They also write essays and discuss how they might atone for their deeds.
A total of 40 inmates went through the prison's program in the year that ended in May.
"We hope that learning how victims suffer (because of what the sex offenders did) will help them not to offend again," said a prison official in charge of the program.
However, the Shiga prison receives no special government assistance, neither financial nor in terms of personnel.
It was only after the Nara case led to the revision of the Prison Law making correctional education mandatory that the Justice Ministry started working on a national, unified program.
Not everyone is convinced that correctional education offers much hope. Prison guards have seen case after case of ex-inmates, ostracized from society after release, committing similar crimes again in desperation.
One correction official wonders if their prison's education program really helps prevent repeated offenses.