Crime & Justice

HRW urges Japan to release prisoners amid COVID-19 pandemic

Tokyo, Apr 23 (EFE).- Human Rights Watch on Thursday urged the Japanese government to “significantly reduce” the number of people in the country’s prisons and detention centers, which are considered high-risk places where a COVID-19 outbreak could be “deadly.”

“An outbreak of COVID-19 in Japan’s prisons could be deadly, as there has been a growing proportion of older prisoners and a shortage of doctors and nurses for prison health care,” said the Japan director of HRW, Kanae Doi, in a statement.

In a letter sent to Justice Minister Masako Mori, HRW urged the release of as many prisoners as possible who are detained for minor crimes such as robbery or use of illegal drugs or nearing the end of their sentences, along with those at higher risk such as pregnant women, the elderly, and those with disabilities or with underlying medical conditions.

The organization also recommended the use of alternatives to detention such as the suspension of sentences to “protect the physical and mental health of prisoners, as well as staff working in the facilities.”

“Japan’s prison and detention system currently lacks the ability to adequately identify, test, treat, and quarantine prisoners, detainees, and staff infected with Covid-19. Multiple prisoners in Japan often share a single room, creating a grave risk of infection,” the statement added.

HRW recommended urgent steps to health care and mental health services including social distancing, testing of prisoners and staff, hiring more staff, and ensuring quick and quality medical assistance.

The health care system in Japan’s prisons is understaffed and under pressure. According to data collected by HRW in 2013, 260 full-time doctors were working at penitentiaries – well below the required 332 required by the Ministry of Justice.

“Being jailed or imprisoned in Japan effectively should not become a death sentence because of COVID-19,” Doi said.

The petition by the organization comes following at least 10 cases of COVID-19 in the prisons of Osaka, Tokyo and Hokkaido in April, leading to dozens of detainees being put under quarantine.

Some 12,600 cases of the novel coronavirus and 300 deaths have been reported by the Japanese authorities so far. The data includes the cases from Diamond Princess and Costa Atlantica cruise ships. EFE


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