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Punishment and Incarceration in Japan: A Net-Widening of Crime Control and a New Priority System of Prosecution

Punishment and Incarceration: A Global Perspective

ISBN: 978-1-78350-910-2, eISBN: 978-1-78350-907-2

Publication date: 10 October 2014



The number of reported cases for Japanese Penal Code offenses amounted to 2.5 million in 1997 and increased every year, reaching 3.6 million in 2002 and 2003. However, the number decreased from 2004 to 2008 to 2.5 million. Almost throughout the same period, the number of cases and persons cleared remained comparatively steady between 1.3 and 1.5 million and 1 and 1.2 million respectively, but the latter finally fell below one million in 2011. In this chapter I describe such a rise and fall as a “Mt. Fuji-line” that appears as a mountain-shaped curve on a graph.


The Japanese government reacted to the increase of crimes, which was seen as a reflection of a weakened or broken security and safety. The most effective policy, it was thought therefore, was to increase the number of policemen. This policy followed the strategy of New York City, made famous by its then Mayor Giuliani, who declared “A War on Crimes” and increased the number of police officers by ten thousand to revive New York from “A Crime City.” As criminologists have experienced so-called “labeling shocks” and learned from the approach of symbolic interactionism, criminologists can no longer simply accept that statistical data reflect weakened or broken security issues. Agencies of criminal justice, especially police officers, use such data as statistical evidence to show that the crime situation got worse.


I argue that the rise and fall of crimes, especially the increasing and decreasing number of reported cases, reflects changes of crime control policies. I analyze the Mt. Fuji-line from 1998 to 2011. The increase of crimes as well as the weakened or broken security and safety functioned as evidence that justified the reinforcement of police power and a new criminal justice shift for a lay judge system in the rising phase (1998–2003). Since the concept of a bigger justice system needs, however, lots of personnel and material sources, the Japanese government eventually gave up sustaining it. Agencies used their discretion to skip petty crimes and divert suspects because of a reduction of excessive burdens and inappropriate prison population, but they stepped into a new stage to adjust their burdens, keeping their own empowered framework of criminal justice system. These changing policies resulted in the reduction of crime in a falling phase (2004–2011).


These phenomena are explained from the viewpoint of Jürgen Habermas’ crisis theory. I conclude that the framework and capacity of the Japanese criminal justice system grew far bigger and that original functions of crime control through criminal procedure became weaker by being outsourced to other peripheral social systems and agencies. Thus the crime control system has been successful in bringing about a net-widening effect.



Ishizuka, S. (2014), "Punishment and Incarceration in Japan: A Net-Widening of Crime Control and a New Priority System of Prosecution", Punishment and Incarceration: A Global Perspective (Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance, Vol. 19), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 227-253.



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