Joanne Mariner is a prison specialist for New York-based Human Rights Watch. She spoke with reporter Paige Bowers about prison conditions worldwide.
Question: What can be done about instances of overcrowding and extreme disciplinary measures in prisons worldwide?
Answer: All over the world, the majority of prisoners are not convicted of any crime; they're just being held awaiting trial. Most countries don't really have any very developed system of bail, and they tend to hold most people awaiting trial in prison. Under international standards, those people should not be held.
Q: What can your organization do to improve this?
A: It has to do with changing national laws. A lot of national laws have really restrictive rules on pretrial release. Also, it has to do with speeding up the judicial system. In a lot of countries, people wait four or five years before there's a verdict in their trial. During that entire time, they're being held in prison.
There's a lot of countries where prisoners are being held longer than their maximum sentence awaiting trial because the judicial process is so slow. So we try to put a lot of pressure on countries to reform their judicial system and their criminal justice system.
Q: How do you go about that? For instance, in Japan, what do you do in places where excessive disciplinary measures are imposed on prisoners?
A: Japan is one of the very rare countries where there's no overcrowding and there's a very speedy judicial system; only a tiny minority of prisoners are being held pretrial. That's not a problem there.
The problem in Japan is that there's a really harsh, rigid system, where there's absolutely no recognition of the fact that a prisoner has any kind of rights, even basic rights, like rights to physical integrity.
So, there's very abusive punishments on arbitrary grounds, and what we try to do is bring these problems to the attention of the public and U.N. organs, and we try to pressure the government to reform the system.
It's a very antiquated system in Japan, and there's a lot of people in the country as well that are working to try and improve things. …