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Yamagata Bar Association first to offer support to families of criminal offenders

TOKYO -- The Yamagata Bar Association will become the first bar organization in Japan to offer support for the families of those who committed crimes, hoping to prevent the societal isolation and thoughts of suicide faced by these families.

The bar association in the northeastern Japan prefecture of Yamagata will embark on helping the families of the defendants they represent rebuild their lives, beginning with the opening of a consultation office in October. The move is a response to numerous cases of relatives of those who have committed a crime being forced to move, or giving up their education or job.

The association bases this project on the idea that supporting the families of offenders is a way to prevent future offenses, and there is a chance that these efforts may spread to other bar associations throughout Japan.

The existence of a consultation organization for the families of offenders is the norm in North America and Europe, but there are few groups that offer such support in Japan. Family members often face the traditional societal perception that they should shoulder partial responsibility for the crimes of their relatives. Because this idea of guilt by association is still strong in Japan, many family members in the shadow of the related-offender are left unable to ask anyone for help.

The Yamagata Bar Association has surveyed such cases with the cooperation of the Sendai-based non-profit organization "World Open Heart" since 2015.

Consultations with 920 family members of criminal offenders between 2009 and March 2016 conducted by World Open Heart found that roughly 90 percent of the family members considering suicide. There were also many cases of family members being forced to move to new residences or being rejected when they apply for new schools due to surrounding defamation, including internet slander, and a majority of families with a member involved in a murder case ended up relocating.

Taking this into account, the Yamagata Bar Association decided that providing support for the affected families would prevent the suicides of relatives as well as help to foster an environment to welcome released offenders back into society. To do this, the bar association created a committee for the support of families of criminal offenders in September.

In addition to the consultation center, the support initiative is planned to include training sessions for association member lawyers about how to support the families of the defendants they are representing.

The association also aims for model support programs for relocations and providing psychological care for the family to accept the offender upon their return to society. These programs will be joint efforts with the National Federation of Real Estate Transaction Associations and the Japanese Association of Certified Social Workers

"The families of offenders can be called the victims of society," said the committee's inaugural chair, lawyer Ryoichi Endo. "We hope to call attention to the issues that these families face by shining a light on the current situation."

Former Tokiwa University President Hidemichi Morosawa, who is an expert in victimology and well-versed in support for crime victims, said the presence of criminal offenders' families is "absolutely crucial in providing a place for them in the society, from the viewpoint of their rehabilitation."

Morosawa added that there are examples where the responsibility of the family is questioned, and opposition from the families of the victims must be considered. "But if one thinks of the efforts in the big picture of preventing re-offenses, then it can be considered a good move."

(Japanese original by Akira Iida, City News Department)

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