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Evident flaws in system for releasing offenders on bail before prison

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe latest case of a fugitive criminal must be criticized as extremely deplorable. The incident was the fault of the prosecution.

Despite his sentence of imprisonment having been finalized after he was released on bail, the man in question fled to avoid being jailed. The fugitive was arrested by the Yokohama District Public Prosecutors Office on suspicion of obstructing the discharge of an official duty. It took as many as four days to apprehend him after his flight.

While he was on the run in Kanagawa Prefecture, public elementary and junior high schools run by local governments in areas surrounding the scene of his escape were forced to suspend classes for two days. The incident also affected the day-to-day lives of local residents, as shown by the fact that weekend events were canceled.

Public prosecutors must bear a grave responsibility for having caused anxiety among community residents. They should seriously reflect on their mistake.

After his unsuspended prison sentence was finalized in February, the man did not abide by the prosecution’s demand that he present himself. On one occasion, he attempted to use violence against personnel from the district prosecutors office when they came to imprison him.

Nevertheless, they did not wear knife-proof vests when they attempted to imprison him, and police officers accompanying them had no guns with them. It is safe to say that such a lenient attitude allowed the knife-wielding man to escape.

The prosecution’s response to the situation following his flight was not at all timely, either.

More than three hours after the man’s escape, the district prosecutors office informed local governments in the area. There were also delays in the police authorities’ emergency measure of deploying officers, which happened during a period of time that coincided with the hour when children go home from school. Local residents had every reason to raise their voices in anger.

Review legislation

There is also room for controversy over the appropriateness of a court decision to release the man on bail.

The man had been charged with such crimes as theft, bodily injury and a violation of the Stimulants Control Law. During his trial in the court of first instance, the man was released on bail. He was given an unsuspended prison sentence and was taken into custody. However, he was released on bail again after appealing to a higher court.

From the standpoint of defending their rights, there is a growing tendency to flexibly permit defendants to be released on bail. Unnecessarily detaining defendants must be avoided as a matter of course. However, courts should judge whether each defendant deserves to be released on bail by closely examining the possibility of them escaping or destroying evidence.

This latest case has illustrated institutional problems related to the action of imprisoning people whose unsuspended prison sentences have been confirmed. As of the end of last year, there were a total of 26 people who had fled to avoid imprisonment.

The administrative work aimed at sending those found guilty to prison is based on the view that human nature is fundamentally good — that is, it is thought they will abide by demands for them to present themselves. Even if they go missing, it is not compulsory to inspect related matters such as records of their incoming and outgoing mobile phone calls.

If defendants or convicted prisoners run away from such institutions as detention houses and prisons, they are charged with the crime of escape. However, this does not apply to offenders who have escaped before being imprisoned. There is no penalty for those who have not abided by a demand to present themselves, either. All of these points can be described as flaws in the legislation.

If offenders whose unsuspended prison sentences have been finalized can avoid the execution of their penalties, the foundation of criminal justice will be shaken. The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office has established an inspection team with a view to preventing a repeat of the incident. The team should examine whether the current system has any problems that must be reviewed.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 25, 2019)Speech



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