Japanese social workers “refuse any oppression and human rights infringement”: Statement from our colleagues.

Hirofumi Oikawa, Certified Social Worker 
Representative Director of 
Tokyo TS NET and PandA 

Kazuaki Harada, Certified Social Worker 
Representative of Advocacy & Legal Social Work Laboratory 

Kazuyo Kuroda, Certified Social Worker 
Chairperson of Samaria 

Susumu Miyazawa, Certified Social Worker 
Representative Director of HOTPOT 

Open Letter demanding Japanese Association of Certified Social Workers to stand against “Assignment of Certified Social Workers at Investigating Authorities” which is under the discussion at Legislative Council of the Ministry of Justice in Japan 

As independent certified social workers in Tokyo, Hyogo, and Saitama prefectures, we have been engaged in activities such as consultation and coordination of post-release support for the people who are subject to the criminal justice procedures as a suspect and an accused. While our field of practice is recognized in various terms such as “Criminal Justice,” “Forensic Welfare”, “Legal Social Work” and “Rehabilitation Support” (hereafter referred to the “field”), we all have been active as independent social workers at the forefront of practice of the field in each region. 

We believe that Japanese Association of Certified Social Workers (hereafter referred to “Association”), from the early stage, has been aware that the 3rd Section of Juvenile Act and Criminal Law Committee (juvenile age and treatment of offenders), Legislative Council of the Ministry of Justice in Japan is discussing assignment of certified social workers to the Public Prosecutor’s Office (or investigating authorities). 
In the subcommittee meeting last year, one of the members stated, “We particularly consider young people aged 18 and 19 to be a target of this measure, whose nature differs from those who are currently subject to the “entrance support scheme *”. It is fair to say that these young people tend to see the system from the viewpoint considering what kind of disadvantageous measures are applied if they do not follow the imposed conditions and how severe such measures will be. Some of them may be suited to the treatment of guidance and support based on the current framework of the Urgent Aftercare of Discharged Offenders program. However, I think the current framework of the Urgent Aftercare of Discharged Offenders program is not sufficient as a measure for the juveniles who has a high level of need for protection, such as ones who are under protective measures ordered by the Family Court, in other words the young people who have difficulty with their abilities and living environment. I believe the treatment and measure for those people needs to be a framework imposing rules or regulations on them and supervising them, and if one doesn’t follow such rules or regulations, he/she shall be treated with any disadvantageous consequence” . 
The assignment of certified social workers to the investigating authorities means that the investigating authorities and social workers who are closely associated with such authorities determine the need of protection for the juvenile offenders, in other words that an investigating authority which takes a person in custody also refer him/her to a social worker as a result of a series of investigation. Such process cannot secure the true value of choice and self-determination. A person in suspect-to-accused stage, who cannot help being frightened at the result of a measure and decision made by the investigating authority, will not be free from arbitrariness in self-determination even he/she agrees to access social welfare services upon the interview with a social worker working inside the investigating office, instead, such agreement may be unreasonably brought up due to the situation. 
In the first place, who is supposed to take a task to determine the necessity of protection under social welfare system and who is supposed to be responsible for such determination? 
Moreover, when any decision which is arbitrarily favorable to an investigating authority is made regarding a person in suspect-to-accused stage, following the investigation under custody, an attending social worker’s professional obligation to protect his/her client’s right may conflict with such decision, which is an extremely serious problem. 
This means that social workers who are supposed to provide offenders with necessary support for stable living after his/her release will be used under the name of “measure” and “disposition”. Furthermore, we are greatly concerned about professional ethics of certified social workers. And while social welfare should be autonomy, justice administration is authoritarian and heteronomy. If social work gained authority and became a part of public power exercise, it would have no relation with its fundamental principles. 

1. We demand Association to stand against the movement, which promotes assignment of certified social workers to the investigating authorities 
We, certified social workers, are professionals of social services and we refuse any oppression and human rights infringement, and we are always expected to take full responsibility in our practice. 
We ask Association to express its official opinion, from the perspective of affinity of the function of social workers’ mission to protect human rights, which legal profession (judges, prosecutors and attorneys) certified social workers are expected to cooperate with when engaged practice in the field. 
We need to understand that different roles and functions are assigned to each legal profession; a judge makes decision whether to remand an arrested person in custody and inflict punishment, even death penalty, a prosecutor accuses a person, may prolong a period of detention and seeks for punishment including death penalty. Upon such understanding, we believe that certified social workers may cooperate with judges and prosecutors within very limited area such as helping judges and prosecutors to understand the relevant person or social services. 
Based on compliance with protection of human rights and ethicality, maintenance of specialty and autonomy of professional workers, we hereby stand against the scheme to place certified social workers to the investigating authorities. 
Therefore, we ask Association also to express clear opposition against such scheme. 
The manner how certified social workers engaged with practice in the field needs to be examined carefully in relation to violation of human rights described below because we will never tolerate oppression and infringement of rights. We will demand Association to resist strongly against investigating authorities (Public Prosecutor’s Office) until Association officially determine its response to such scheme. 
When Association decides its opinion and view about the scheme, please make it public along with such ground for argument among the members by referring in the official bulletin and the web site. 

2. We demand Association to make public argument with all the members about “assignment of certified social workers to the investigating authorities” 
While there is Legal and Social Welfare Committee in Association, their discussion regarding this issue is not published. As the largest organization of social welfare professions in Japan, has there been adequate discussion and argument on predicted risks and problems regarding assignment of certified social workers to investigating authorities? 
We are not able to know the process of such discussion, as it has not been open to the members of Association. From the view point of transparency and soundness of an organization, we cannot trust Legal and Social Welfare Committee’s recent handling of this matter, which leads us to point out that Association virtually agree on placing certified social workers in investigating authorities. We request Association to share the relevant information with all the members immediately. 
On the other hand, if any decision has already been made by the director’s board of Association or Legal and Social Welfare Committee regarding such assignment of certified social workers to the investigating authorities, such decision is extremely important, and Association should publish the discussion and the result to all the members in order to fulfill its accountability. 
We also release this letter in public. We hope Association to activate discussion on this issue by introducing this opposing opinion through various mediums and hearing opinions widely from certified social workers all over the country. 

3. We demand Association to express its view to the members, in accordance with Code of Ethics and Conduct of Social Workers, how certified social workers should think and act as an advocate when any violation of rights occurred in the process of investigation, interviews or any other forms of similar activities conducted by the investigating authorities. 
As an independent social worker, each of us acts in a capacity of advocate for human rights when we counsel and support people in suspect-to-accused stage. 
Therefore, it is reasonably expected that we might hear from our client about infringement of rights caused by the investigating authorities. 
There is good possibility that the certified social workers placed in investigating authorities may assist infringement by the investigating authorities in words and action when such placement occurs. 
Please share among the members your view on how a certified social worker is expected to react when social workers working in the investigating authorities have (or seem to have) coerced anyone in suspect-to-accused stage into using any social service or welfare facility. 
As a matter of course, it is expected that rights infringement inside the investigating authorities will take place in literally ultimately closed environment with enormous pressure. Association needs to be aware that it holds primary responsibility to deal with this extremely critical issue. 
Infringement by the investigating authorities in the process of investigation has been widely known through various media reports. We ask directors of Association to consider the issue seriously. 
A report of survey Japanese Federation of Bar Associations conducted in the past regarding infringement by the investigating authorities can be found at the following web site. Please read this report and use it as a reference for the discussion. 

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.