Death Row: Japan vs United States - What's the Difference?

Death Row: Japan vs United States - What's the Difference?

Imagine a prisoner sitting in solitary confinement
waiting to die. He has no idea when it will happen, but knows
it is inevitable. Think of the fear, the anxiety, the stress
this prisoner must feel. He wakes up every day not knowing if it is
his last. He falls asleep at night not knowing if he
will be pulled from his bed to die. The prisoner awakes for the day. He sits alone with only his thoughts. Water trickles down the sides of the windowless
concrete walls that make up his cell. He is pacing back and forth when there is
a clunk. The door to his cell unlatches. It swings open. When the prisoner looks out through the open
doorway all he sees is a long empty hall. He cautiously exits the room. A door at the far end of the hallway slides
open with a hiss. The prisoner walks slowly, unsure of what’s
to come. When he is halfway down the hall the door
to his cell slams shut and locks automatically. The only way to go is forward.

He enters the doorway at the end of the hall,
the glaring light from within the room blinds him. Standing in the room is a hooded figure. In his hand is a noose. The time has finally come. The wait is over. The prisoner walks calmly over and allows
the noose to be placed around his neck. He is relieved that the wait, and the not
knowing, is finally over. The hooded figure leaves the room. It is silent again. Time goes by, then suddenly the floor beneath
the prisoner drops. The rope tightens. The execution is carried out. This may seem like a cruel punishment from
earlier times, but it’s not. It is happening right now. This scenario is part of being a prisoner
on death row in Japan.

Let’s compare the death row process of Japan
and the United States. You will find some of the practices in these
two developed nations to be surprising, and not as developed as you might think. There are only two first world democracies
on the entire planet that still execute their own citizens. These two nations are Japan and the United
States of America. On average Japan incarcerates far fewer people
than the United States. In Japan, out of every 100,000 people 39 are
sent to prison at least once in their life. In the United States about 655 people per
100,000 are sent to jail. This disparity between incarceration rates
may make you think that Japan has a better prison system, and therefore, a more humane
form of death row. You may be shocked at what we uncover as we
explore the death row practices of Japan and compare them to the United States. Death row is the term given to the time from
when someone is convicted and sentenced to death until the execution date. Let’s start by looking at how Japan and
the United States differ in the sentencing of prisoners who end up on death row.

In the United States a person who is arrested
has the right to remain silent and an attorney present during questioning. This may seem normal to a lot of us, but that
is not the case in Japan. When questioned in Japan, the accused is not
allowed representation. They may remain silent, but as we will see
this tends not to work out. In Japan police can keep suspects in custody
for up to 23 days without evidence. There have been reports of Japanese police
torturing suspects, both mentally and physically, to get a confession. It wasn’t until 2016 that Japan instituted
mandatory video recordings of interrogations. Unfortunately for suspects, this only applies
to 3% of Japan’s criminal cases. The only interigaitons that are recorded are
for serious charges such as murder. All other interrogations are done in secret. In contrast the United States justice system
requires that there be a third party present during questioning of a suspect. The prisoner can waive their right to counsel,
but this is rare. Even in these uncommon cases without a lawyer
present the interrogations are still monitored.

One main reason for this is to keep police
from forcing a confession using unreliable methods. The United Nations and other human rights
advocates have concluded through numerous studies that confessions through torture and
inhumane practices are almost never reliable. Unfortunately, the Japanese criminal justice
system does not see it that way. Iwao Hakamada was arrested and later convicted
for the murders of several people in Japan. He claimed he was subjected to more than 240
hours of questions for over 20 days. There were no video recordings of the interrogation
process, so we will never know what actually happened during that time. However, the amount of time Hakamada spent
in custody is undeniable.

Iwao was one of the few who appealed his death
sentence and was granted a hearing. But the hearing nerve came. For five decades Iwao sat in solitary confinement
on death row, making him the longest serving death row inmate ever. Recently, his sister with the support of various
legal organizations convinced the district court to order a retrial. The district court decided to free Iwao to
await his retrial at home. He was released from prison due to his fragile
mental state after spending almost 50 years on death row. Unfortunately, Iwao is still waiting for his
reltrial, and if found guilty a second time he could go back to prison. Until then, Iwao sits at home waiting to see
if he will become a free man or return to death row. In the United States, as in most democracies,
confessions obtained after more than 200 hours of interrogation are ruled as involuntary,
unreliable, and can not be used as evidence in court. This is not the case in Japan, which may be
why the country has a 99% conviction rate. When someone is arrested for a crime and a
confession is secured by police, regardless of the means, that person is guilty.

The evidence against them may be shoddy and
they may have been tortured, but that does not stop the state from convicting them. Prosecutors tend to only pursue cases they
think will lead to a guilty verdict. This is practically everyone who is brought
to court. Since crime rates are so low in Japan, someone
who is brought to court is already assumed to be guilty. Jurors automatically assume they have committed
the crime even before hearing the evidence. This leads to an easy conviction and a high
conviction rate. The United State also has a high conviction
rate. In the United States conviction rates have
risen over the decades and are currently around 90%. However, only Japan can boast a conviction
rate of 99%. With higher conviction rates, are their higher
execution rates in Japan than in the United States? The most recent data from Japan reports that
24 people were executed between 2012 and 2016. However, since 1977 the annual number of executed
inmates has never been more than nine people in a year.

In 1998 the Japanese Justice Ministry released
a report that stated seven people were executed in one week, which was the largest number
of executions in that amount of time. Regardless of how you feel about the death
penalty, the United States execution rates are startling. In 2018 alone 25 death row inmates were executed. That is more than Japan executes in three
years. In 2019, 22 prisoners were executed in the
United States. This is just two less than all of the executions
in Japan between 2012 and 2016. Japan may have a higher conviction rate than
the United States, but the U.S. executes many more prisoners than Japan does. This may be shocking, but there is ofcourse
also a massive population difference between the two nations, meaning more criminals in
one than the other, and thus more capital punishment. Once convicted and sent to death row do inmates
have any rights? In the United States there are human rights
organizations that monitor the conditions for inmates on death row. Almost all of these human rights organizations
agree that the death penalty and the preceding trial violate the prisoner’s rights.


And it is not just inmates on death row that
have it hard. The conditions for regular prisoners in the
U.S. can be harsh. If you don’t believe us watch any of the
other Infographics Show videos on prisons. I think you’ll be surprised at what you
find. In Japan things are a little more tricky when
it comes to basic rights. Like in the United States, death row inmates
can appeal to the Supreme Court for another hearing. Unfortunately for the inmates in Japan, just
because you appeal does not guarantee you won’t be executed before your case can be
heard. There are multiple accounts of prisoners who
requested retrials and were executed while waiting to hear back about pending court dates. The law in Japan says that execution must
take place within six months of the court’s decision. In reality the executions take years, but
just because you have a pending retrial does not mean you are protected from being executed
in Japan. One problem that plagues both countries' death
row inmates is that many suffer from mental illness. This factor is often overlooked, and when
these prisoners are put in isolation their conditions can deteriorate rapidly.

Both Japan and the United States keep death
row prisoners in solitary confinement until it is time for their execution. These harsh conditions of isolation weigh
heavily on older inmates. For this population solitary confinement can
lead to an increase in physical disabilities causing excruciating pain for older inmates. Two of the most profound differences between
death row in Japan and in the United States are the date and way prisoners are executed. In the United States execution dates are set
in advance. This is considered to be better for the inmates
mental stability. Japan on the other hand does not give predetermined
execution dates. Instead, inmates on death row in Japan could
be executed at any point after being sentenced. Many don’t find out they are to be executed
until the morning of their capital punishment. This often leaves inmates with only an hour
or two to prepare themselves for what is to come.

The UN Committee against Torture has criticised
Japan for this practice. The psychological strain of not knowing when
the execution will occur is literal torture, not only to the inmate, but to their families
as well. It is true that in the United States prisoners
do get to request a last meal. Some prison systems honor everything an inmate
asks for, others do not. Either way death row prisoners do get a final
meal. Since there is no set date of execution in
Japan inmates do not get a final meal on the day they are to be executed. If you had to guess right now, which country
do you think would have more humane executions? Would it be Japan with their surprise executions? Or the United States with its high number
of executions? Is one way better than another? We’ll let you be the judge. In Japan executions are carried out by hanging. The inmate is blindfolded and a black hood
is placed over their head before they are executed. To release the executioners of their burden,
three prison officers simultaneously press the button for the trap door to open.

This way they will never know which button
pusher was ultimately responsible for taking the prisoner’s life. In the United States things work a little
differently. Most often the prisoner is executed by lethal
injection. The deadly cocktail varies by state, but normally
it consists of some form of paralytic before a final poison is administered. This is often done by people without any medical
training. It makes sense when you think about it as
administering the chemicals to kill someone would be in breach of a medical professionals
Hipocratic Oath. But unlike in Japan the person who is carrying
out the execution knows without a doubt, they are the one who delivered death to the inmate. Also unlike Japan the United States allows
execution methods to be determined at the state level rather than having one standard
federal policy. Some states even allow the execuee to choose
their method of execution. States like Alabama and Tennessee in the United
States allow their prisoners to choose which method they would like to die from. This led to some inmates asking for execution
by electric chair. The electric chair was discontinued after
it became considered more humane to use chemicals to kill a prisoner.

This could be because the outward appearance
of someone being cooked alive by electricity, is less desirable than a prisoner that quietly
drifts off to sleep and then dies. But in states that allow prisoners to choose
their form of execution several have opted to go by electric chair. Another form of execution that prisoners in
the United States have chosen to die by is firing squad. In 2010 Ronnie Lee Gardner was killed by a
firing squad in Utah. Is it more humane to let someone decide how
they will be executed? Maybe, but if you take into consideration
the mental health of prisoners it’s probably not.

One of the most surprising differences between
the death row in Japan and in the United States has to do with the general population. Japan has a much higher support rate for the
death penalty than the United States. 80% of Japense citizens support the death
penalty, whereas in 2018 only 54% of United States citizens supported the death penalty. Even if you disagree with the way Japan carries
out executions, the majority of Japanese citizens do not.

The differences between death row in Japan
and death row in the United States are clear. What is less clear is if one is better than
the other, or if there should be a death row at all. In 2019 Japan approved a decision to stop
using the death penalty by 2020. Huge amounts of pressure were put on them
by human rights organizations, including the United Nations, to abolish the death penalty
before Japan hosted the Olympic Games.

The resolution was submitted to the heads
of government in Japan. The death penalty has still not been abolished. To be fair, the United States has hosted the
Olympics several times in the past, most recently in 2002, yet the United States still uses
the death penalty. Apparently not getting rid of death row to
host the olympics is something Japan and the United States have in common. For more prison facts watch 50 Insane Facts
About Prison You Wouldn't Believe. Or for and in depth look at what it’s actually
like to be a death row inmate check out What The Last 24 Hours of Death Row Prisoners Look

As found on YouTube

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