Juvenile crime rates of all categories have been stable or have slightly decreased for several decades in Japan. More recently, the number of juvenile offenders who committed non-traffic Penal Code offenses has decreased for the last 10 years (2004-2014). This can be attributed to Japan’s unique cultural and traditional characteristics (e.g., racial homogeneity, strong societal bonds, strict weapons control, and an efficient juvenile justice system). Even though the collective responsibility and solidarity in Japanese society are able to suppress crimes, other side effects such as the high rate of suicide and school violence (Ijime) offset the mythology of that Japan is a completely safe society.
Nevertheless, the Japanese juvenile justice system has reinforced the advantages of the society at large, and all juvenile cases shall be sent to the Family Court first, which specializes in the disposition of juvenile offenders. Different from the adult criminal justice system, the public prosecutor has no “power to screen cases for prosecution” in the juvenile justice system. The Family Court has a right to prior consideration in juvenile disposal procedures, and the court’s right to prior consideration is based on welfare-protective dispositions. In the Japanese juvenile justice system, there is the double-track system: the protective procedure track versus the punishment procedure track. The two tracks attempt to secure a balance between protection and accountability. The Family Court is following the Anglo-Saxon model in the pursuit of harmony between a welfare and penal function, referred to as the “specialization of juvenile justice.”
The Juvenile Law is the primary stipulation that influences and guides the functioning of the juvenile justice system in Japan. Even though the minimum criminal responsible age is 14 years or old, individuals under 20 years of age when they commit a crime are considered juveniles. There are three categories of the juvenile offenders as the jurisdiction of the Japanese Family Court: “juvenile criminals” (14 years old or over to under 20), “child offenders” (under 14), and “juveniles liable to commit a crime” (under 20). Judges and investigators of Family Court investigate and hold hearings with the aid of the juvenile classification home. The court subsequently determines the need to subject the juvenile in question to protective measures and the most beneficial treatment for the juveniles. Possible measures include placement under the supervision of probation officers, commitment to juvenile education, or placement in a training home or a house for defendant children. Another option is commitment to a juvenile training school. The Japanese juvenile justice system has recently been challenged to observe the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and to institutionalize restorative justice.
Acknowledgments I wish to express my deep appreciation to Professor Zimring at U.C Berkeley School of Law, he led me pursue the field of political philosophy about criminal justice. My thanks also go to the Shandong University School of Law. Owing to the law school’s support I could have finished this research.