Hello from Japan. I would like to introduce a day in the life of a probation officer in East Asia, a bit far from Europe.
My name is Yuho Furukawa. I am currently working at UNAFEI, but from 2009 to last year I was a probation officer at a local probation office. There are several ways to become a probation officer in Japan, and the office attracts people from a wide range of fields, including specialists in the fields of law, psychology, welfare and sociology. I majored in psychology at university.
Role of “Hogoshi” in Community Supervision
Probation in Japan has a long history. It also offers a unique style of community-based treatment that differs from that of other countries. A key feature of the country’s community-based treatment system is that probation officers work with “hogoshi,” private volunteers commissioned by the Minister of Justice to provide supervision and support to offenders. Probation officers work as a team with hogoshi living in the community to supervise clients. The probation officer is responsible for all clients in a given area, but the hogoshi is assigned a few clients and supports the officer.
This unique form of system has its background in the history of community-based treatment in Japan, which began with private volunteers. Even now that the government probation system has been established, hogoshi are still essential partners for us. Hogoshi is mainly retired from work, self-employed, or priests, and other influential people in the local community. They are ordinary citizens and kind neighbors who are role models for our clients. While there are 900 probation officers in the country, there are nearly 47,000 hogoshi. With the current number of probation officers, it is difficult to provide all of detailed care and support to each client, so hogoshi undertakes some part of the work.
Upon arriving at the office in the morning, I found several sticky notes detailing the calls received from hogoshi and clients since my return home yesterday and throughout the morning. I look over the contents and call them back, in order of priority, to check on their situation and discuss future plans. I then look over the reports from hogoshi on my desk about the clients. Clients are required to visit the home of their hogoshi 2-3 times a month for interviews and to talk to hogoshi about their living situation. Therefore, the hogoshi mainly writes in the report what she/he discussed with the client during those interviews. It gives us a vivid picture of the client’s recent life, such as working steadily, having a boy/girlfriend, moving home and so on. Sometimes the details are negative, such as not showing up for the interview at the appointed time, being fired from their job, etc. If there is something sudden and serious happening that involves recidivism or violated conditions of probation, the probation officer must respond as soon as possible. While it is the hogoshi who are always there for their clients in the community to support them, it is the probation officers who formulate treatment plans based on the RNR model, provide professional guidance, and sometimes carry out strict procedures such as revocation of probation. Whenever I read hogoshis’ reports, I always consider how I should handle each individual case going forward.
Sometimes there are in-person interviews between the client and the probation officer. We have several types of community-based treatment, some for adults on parole and probation, as well as some for minors. The reasons for having clients come directly to our office vary and may be for an initial interview after the start of probation, to discuss employment, housing, or to interview those who have violated conditions.
If the probation office is large enough, special programs for specific types of offenses may be conducted as a group. Several clients gather for a meeting, facilitated by the probation officer. Sometimes members of the peer support groups participate as people who have been through recovery. Some of the programs we run in our groups are for people recovering from drug addiction and others are for preventing repeat sexual offenses. The program is based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which promotes cognitive and behavioral change. Our meetings combine elements of lectures with workbooks and self-help groups, including self-disclosure and sharing of experiences and feelings. Our emphasis is on creating an atmosphere where participants feel safe and can express their honest feelings and thoughts. Those who are mandated to attend the program for drug addiction are also required to take a brief drug test on the same day. For those under the age of 18, the general rule is that the program is conducted individually, not in groups.
In addition, we visit clients’ homes to check on their living arrangements and hear from their families. We are also responsible for visiting the families and employers of clients who are still incarcerated, and setting up their social environment before the client’s release from prison.
We also value a multi-stakeholder approach. We focus on our clients’ lives after their probationary period is over, work with many agencies and support groups, helping them to stay connected to their communities and continue to receive support. Hogoshi, who live in the same community as their clients, act as a bridge between government agencies and society. We are proud of this system of probation, which is conducted in cooperation with hogoshi.
However, the community has changed dramatically from what it used to be, and the circumstances and needs of clients have changed as well. I respect the traditional hogoshi system and hope to carry it on for many years to come. At the same time, I feel that it needs to be adapted to fit the current times and that it is time to explore new and effective ways to provide community-based treatment along with hogoshi.