Genbatsuka: growing penal populism and the changing role of public prosecutors in Japan

Tom Ellis, Koichi Hamai

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Previous research has indicated that the rise in Japanese crime from the late 1990s is largely the result of changes in recording practices. These were themselves brought on by the interrelated phenomena of pressure from the growing power of victim activists, increasing media focus on crime from the victim’s perspective, changes in police policy and practice, and changes in legislation. While it appears that Japanese society has become more punitive, it is also the case that prosecutors in Japan remain in charge of the criminal justice process. It seems that a number of changes in discourse and legislation have effectively pushed prosecutors into more punitive recommendations, which can be seen in their effect on official crime and sentencing statistics. However, the motivations for prosecutors’ behaviour are less clear. We suggest here that prosecutors have been very adept at assenting to public pressure to be more punitive in a period of relative economic uncertainty, but in effect have ensured that they maintain full control over the entire criminal justice process. We end by concluding that the extent to which Japan appears liberal, re-integrative or punitive is controlled much more by the prosecutors than it ever was, or will be, by the public.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-91
Number of pages25
JournalJapanese Journal of Sociological Criminology
Issue number33
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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