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  • 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