Prison Labour in Japan

Yuichi Kaido
Katsuhiko Iguchi

1.Imprisonment with Labour as Penalty

The Japanese Penel Code prescribes 2 types of imprisonment penalty, mere imprisonment and imprisonment with labour. Because most crimes are punished by “imprisonment with labour", sentences are usually given in the form of imprisonment with labour.

Artile 12,(2) of the Penal Code states that imprisonment with labour shall be executed by detaining the prisoner in the prison and make him(her) engaged in assigned labour. Such prisoners who work as execution of the sentence occupy major part of prison labour in Japan ( work by prisoners who are obligated to work due to non-payment of fine and petition work applied for by those who were sentented to “mere imprisonment" and pre- trial detai nees is also included)

In 1994, 35,803 was the daily average figure of prisoners engaged in prison labour. About 13.4 billion yen ( $130 million ) revenue resulted from the prison industry.
Details of prison labour are determined by Prison Act, Enforcement Rule, and numerous Standing Orders.

Types of work and their share are as follows (as of end of Dec.1995)
Total Number of Prisoners engaged

Production work
76.7 %

Domestic work (institutional maintenance such as cooking,laundry,repair)

Occupational training

Types of production work

Total Number of Prisoners engaged

   dressmaking       20.6 %

   assembling        18.5

   paper work        17.3

   miscellaneous work    11.0

   wood work         9.2

   machine manufacture    8.0

   printing           5.5

   leather work         4.3

   others            5.6

2. Prison Labour under draconian discipline

The largest characteristics of Japanese prison labour is that prisoners are forced to work under draconian discipline and inhuman conditions.

1) Daily Prison Life

6:45 wake-up

7:00 roll call


8:00 prison industry begins

9:45〜10:00 short break

12:00〜12:40 lunch

14:30〜14:45 short break

16:40 prison industry ends

17:00 roll call


18:00 free time

21:00 sleep

Prisoners work 8 hours daily, 40 hours weekly, except on Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays.

2) “ Handbook for Life in Prison " of the Fuchu Prison in Tokyo states as follows;

“ The most important part of your sentence is that you fulfill your duty o f assigned labour. Prisoners who are sentenced to imprisonment with labour are obliged under the law to engage in the work to which they are assigned. If without good reason a prisoner refuses to work, skips work or demands to change the type of work, it will be considered as an action against that duty and severe measures may be taken."

In most prisons twice daily when they move from cell to factory and from factory to cell, prisoners are subjected to strip search to check illegal properties. This examination requires the completely unclothed prisoner to raise his arms above his head and alternately raise each leg for guard's inspection (at some prisons guards touch on underwear).

Many penitentiaries force the convicts to march to and from the work house or during transfers within the prison like the military. They are made to chant “one-two, one-two" as they march, swinging their arm to shoul der height and goose-stepping. In some facilities convicts are required to shout out the “ Five Principles" in unison every day before work begins.

Five principles are :

Prisones work under constant and very stringent watch and monitor by guards. They must concentrate on their work and are not allowed to look aside or talk to fellow prisoners. They must work in complete silence. Making eye contact with prisoners or guards is strictly prohibited, Violation of the rule results in punishment. Short Breaks are 15 minutes each in the morning and in the afternoon. Lunch break lasts only 40 minutes. Going to the toilet, such acts as taking the sweat off one's face with towel, blowing one's nose are in principle authorized only during break times. 3) All the revenue of the prison industry goes to the national treasury.
Prisoners receive no wages for their work, but a small garatuity that varies according to their work classification. The average monthly gratuity amount to about \3500 ( $35 in 1994 FY). This payment is added to and , in principle, given to prisoners when they are released. But a part may be spent to purchase goods in the facility.

4) Because prison labour is done as an execution of the sentence,
the govenment is of the view that labour protection laws such as labour standard law, labour safety and hygiene law do not directly apply to prison labour, however, the government takes necessary measures so that prisoners in practice enjoy similar protection. To those who were involved in accidents and injured or died ,solatium will be paid. (death solatium 4.1〜 1.4 million yen)

3. Compatibility with ILO Forced Labour Convention ( No.29 )

1) International Criticism

a) Recently strong criticism was made in U.S.and U.K.that the practice of Japanese prisons forcing prisoners to make commercial goods for private companies violates ILO Forced Labour Convention. In June 1994 Subcommitte on Asia and Pacific of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S.House of Representatives held a public hearing on “Japanese Prison Labour Practice". An American who served in the Fuchu Prison in Tokyo testified that he was forced to make commercial export goods for Sega firm , under very harsh conditions of not permitted to talk, look around or use the toilet without permission. He only received a tiny pay of 3 cents per hour.

Attorneys testified that in U.S. use of prison labour for private companies is allowed only with @ consent of the prisoner concerned A paym ent of wage no less than the minimum wage paid to the same labour in the normal labour market and that Japanese practice without such conditions constitutes violation of the ILO Forced Labour Convention.

b)In May 1995, U.K. newspapers including the Times reported the harsh experinces of a British former prisoner in a Japanese prison and that practice of Japanese prisons forcing prisoners to make commercial goods for private companies threatening by punishment and under draconian discipline and with tiny wage constitutes violation of the ILO Convention 29. The Director-General of the Correction Bureau of Ministry of Justice argued in the Times that Japanese prisoner's work is mandatory due to Penal Code and different from forced labour for private companies.

c) These criticism contains criticism of three different elements, namely,
  i) unfair trade practice of Japan
  ii) harsh treatment of prisoners
  iii) incompatibility with ILO Convention 29

2) Article 1 of the Forced Labour Convention ( No.29 ) states
“Each Member of ILO which ratifies this Convention undertakes to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms within the shortest possible period.

Article 2 defines the term “forced or compulsory labour" as all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.

Artile 2 .paragraph 2 lists forced labour exempted from the Convention.,

2 (c): Any work or service exacted for any person as a consequence of a conviction in a court of law, provided that the said work or services is carried out under the supervision and control of a public authority and that the said person is not hired to or “placed at the disposal of private individuals, companies or associations.

3) The above mentioned production works
in Japanese prisons are divided into following two types

  A: Works for which public corporation “Correctional Association Prison In dustry Corporation" provides the state with materials and sells CAPIC products such as shoes and bags (25% share)

  B: Works for which the state contracts out with private companies and their commercial goods are produced (75% )

in wokshops in prisons ( 99% )

in workshops outside prisons operated by private compaies( 1% )

4) In studying the problem of compatibility
of above B type with the ILO Convention 29 it would be usefull to consider the arguments made at ILO Expert Committee ( CEACR).

◇ 1979 General Survey

“ In 1974 the committee requested governments to supply information on th e position of law and practice regarding the use of convict labour by private companies etc. Since the General Survey of 1968 a number of countries have repealed provisions under which prisoners could be placed at the disposal of a private enterprise. Other countries have indicated that measures have been taken to amend the legislation accordingly. The use of the labour of convicted prisoners in workshops operated by private undertakings outside and inside prisons would be compatible with the Convention only if it were subject to the consent of the prisoners concerned and guarantees as to the payment of normal wages and social security."

◇ 1990〜1994 Report on Austria

The Government argues that condition of employment for prisoners in workshops operated by private undertakings must be distinguished from those of free workers in essential respects: the prisoners concerned have no contractual relationship with the undertaking. The Committee points out that compulsory prison labour is exempted from the Convention under a twofold condition: not only must the work be carried out under the supervision and control of a public authority, but also the persons concerned must not be hired to or placed at the disposal of private companies etc. It hopes that the Government will soon report progress in raising remuneration and take steps with a view to seeking prisoners' explicit consent to working in workshops operated by private undertaking."

5) In Japanese prisons, prisoners are
forced to engage in the work of making products of private companies such as Mitsukoshi, without their consent and with the payment of gratuity amounting to about 3500 yen per month. But, prison factories inside prisons are not run by private companies. They are operated by the prison and placed under stringent supervision and control of prison guards. Whether in this case prison labour is placed at the disposal of private companies and should be considered as a violation of the Forced Labour Convention similar to the Austrian case in light of the discussions at the Expert Committee is rather difficult to decide.

6) In this connection, we would like to learn
from other participants in this Workshop on the following points.

1. Are convicted prisoners engaged in the work of making commercial goods for private companies in other countries?

2. If so, the following 2 conditions mentioned by ILO Expert Committee required to be fulfilled ?

  a) consent of the prisoner  b) payment of normal wages

3. Has the system of prison labour been modified in relation to the discussion at the ILO Expert Committee ?

4. Compatibility with Convention 29 of the prison labour practice, where prisoners are forced to make private companies' products without the above 2 conditions in prison-run factories What about in privately- run factories?

   1.“White Paper on Crime" 1995

   2. Japanese Ministry of Justice,“ Prison Administration in Japan"

   3. Japan Federation of Bar Associations, “ Prisons in Japan"

   4. Human Rights Watch “ Prison Conditions in Japan "

   5.ILO CEACR 1979 General Survey, Report on Austria 1990〜1994 con cerning Convention No.29