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Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012

Town gets tough on ex-con rehab centers

New rule would need neighbors' OK for facilities

Kyodo

A town in Saitama Prefecture is planning to create an ordinance requiring private operators of rehabilitation facilities for former criminals to obtain approval from neighbors before they open new centers, the first such move by a municipality, Justice Ministry officials said Wednesday.

The town of Matsubushi will submit the ordinance — which would require rehabilitation center operators to secure written consent from more than two thirds of people who live within a 300-meter radius of any new facilities — to its assembly in September, local officials said.

The ordinance is aimed at alleviating residents' concerns and gaining their acceptance of plans for future facilities accommodating former criminals who finished their time in prison but have nowhere else to go, the officials said.

The move has sparked concerns from the Justice Ministry, which aims to reduce criminal recidivism by ensuring ex-convicts have job opportunities and places to live.

In July, the central government set a goal of reducing by 20 percent over a 10-year period the number of ex-cons who commit new offenses and return to prison within two years after their release.

Matsubushi officials said they began considering the ordinance after strong protests from residents led to the cancellation of a plan by a nonprofit organization to convert a private home in the town into a rehabilitation facility.

The group notified the town of the plan to build the facility late last year, but faced opposition from residents during a briefing for them in January, the officials said.

In a related development, plans to open state-run rehabilitation facilities were also canceled in Kyoto and Fukuoka due to protests by those living nearby.

Mitsuru Itaya, head of the Justice Ministry's rehabilitation service development division, said the ordinance "would effectively make it impossible to open a new rehabilitation facility."

Tetsuya Fujimoto, professor emeritus of criminology at Chuo University, said the ordinance ostracizes former prisoners who are in a vulnerable position as they have nowhere else to go.

"The ordinance goes against the times, and repeat offenses could rise if other municipalities follow suit and reject former criminals," Fujimoto said.



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