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US military-affiliated personnel receiving special treatment in prison in Japan

The Yokosuka prison branch that detains male prisoners affiliated with the U.S. military who were handed over in Japanese courts is shown in this photo taken on March 6, 2020. (Mainichi/Tadashi Sano)

YOKOSUKA, Kanagawa -- U.S. military-affiliated inmates at a prison branch in this city south of Tokyo have been receiving special treatment in their meals among other privileges compared to their Japanese counterparts and other foreign inmates.

Although many people may hold the impression that prisoners are usually provided with rather plain meals, there is a disparity in dishes provided to inmates in this facility in Yokosuka, the only prison that detains male U.S. military-related individuals who were sentenced in Japanese courts.

The Mainichi Shimbun obtained a list of meal menus for January through a freedom of information request. The breakfast for U.S. military-affiliated inmates on Jan. 9 was fruit, cheese omelet, creamed beef, pancakes with syrup, and boiled rice.

Meanwhile, the menu for the Japanese and other detainees was miso soup containing onions and seaweed, natto or fermented soybeans, pickled plums, and a mixed bowl of rice and barley with a 7:3 ratio.

Differences could be seen in lunches as well, with U.S. military-related prisoners receiving steak, potato, asparagus, fruits cocktails, and peanut butter cookies while other inmates were provided with fried horse mackerel, broiled eggs and vegetables, pickled cucumbers, and a mixed bowl of rice and barley.

While other inmates are offered tea to accompany their meals, U.S. military inmates are served coffee or milk. There are apparently only three times in a month where U.S. military prisoners eat the same meals as their fellow inmates.

The reason behind this distinguished treatment is that the U.S. military supplies foods specially for these inmates in accordance with the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). U.S. inmates have received various forms of special consideration since the joint committee of Japan and the United States reached an agreement in 1953, stating that in the event that Japan imprisons or detains U.S. military personnel, Japanese authorities will take into proper consideration the differences in customs and the like between the two countries. The issue has been raised numerous times in National Diet sessions, and then Justice Minister Mayumi Moriyama stated in a session in 2002 that, "It is desirable that the provisions of supplementary foods to U.S. military inmates be ultimately abolished." However, the reality of the disparities in treatment has not changed.

According to the Ministry of Justice, there were seven U.S. military-related prisoners and 156 Japanese and other inmates serving time at the Yokosuka prison branch as of June 3. The U.S. armed forces provided the prison branch with 5.3 metric tons of supplementary food supplies in 2019 when eight of its personnel were detained, which is equivalent to around 660 kilograms of food per inmate. Although it is specified that meals provided to the average inmate who is an adult male be around 2,220 to 2,620 kilocalories per day depending on their workload, the meals provided to U.S. military inmates likely exceed such standards significantly.

There is also a disparity in bathing taken by these groups of prisoners. Japanese and other prisoners usually take baths in groups twice a week, or three times a week during the summer. However, U.S. military prisoners are allowed to take showers every day.

In the past, there were also cases of separate treatment in which only U.S. military members were permitted usage of heaters and had been subject to later bedtimes. Unlike other inmates who sleep on futon mattresses in shared cells, U.S. military prisoners sleep on beds in individual compartments. A Justice Ministry representative admitted that while the average foreign inmate also receives certain consideration in large-scale prisons that accommodate foreigners, such as the arrangement of beds as well as meals considering religious and dietary customs, U.S. military members are granted special treatment. "Although meals should be kept the same and disparities should be improved, there is a long, accumulated history. The situation cannot be changed overnight as there is another party involved," commented the representative.

Male prisoners belonging to the U.S. military are sent to the Yokosuka prison branch while female members are sent to a prison in Tochigi Prefecture, north of Tokyo. However, the supplementary food provisions are limited to the Yokosuka branch, and female U.S. military members are unable to receive this same treatment. The Justice Ministry representative explained, "It may be because a large majority of prisoners had been men since the commencement of the special provisions. There should be no cases of supplementary foods being provided to the Tochigi prison in the past or at present."

A former U.S. military member who committed murder and robbery in Yokosuka in 2006 is also serving time in the city's prison branch. Masanori Yamazaki, 72, who lost his wife to the former soldier, expressed his anger and said, "It is abnormal that there is special treatment continuing even within prisons. Whether the prisoner is Japanese or affiliated with the U.S. military, they are prisoners alike. The Japanese government should respond to this issue more thoroughly."

-- Yokosuka prison branch menu for Jan. 4, 2020

For U.S. military-affiliated prisoners

Breakfast: Fruit, fried eggs, creamed beef, cereal, and French toast with syrup

Lunch: Meatloaf, waldorf salad, potatoes, cauliflower, and fruit jelly

Dinner: Beef stroganoff, creamy mushroom soup, boiled rice, relish tray, spinach, and pound cake

For Japanese and other prisoners

Breakfast: Miso soup containing white radish and freeze-dried tofu, canned boiled mackerel, and flavored seaweed

Lunch: Steamed rice with mountain vegetables, egg soup with ground chicken, and Szechwan pickles

Dinner: Beef dish, heated meal of simmered bamboo shoots, and pickled cucumbers

(Rice meals provided to Japanese and other prisoners included rice and barley at a ratio of 7:3)

(Japanese original by Tadashi Sano, Political News Department)

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