Tokyo prison that held Ghosn opens doors to answer critics

Tokyo (AFP) –


Perhaps the most famous recent inmate at the Tokyo Detention House, ex-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn, is no longer resident, but the prison has thrown open its doors hoping to answer critics.

The facility has no bars on its windows, gleaming floors and the latest medical equipment -- all put on display on Monday before journalists to rebut critics who say it is a tool in a "hostage justice" system, where the accused are held potentially indefinitely to encourage them to confess.

"We think the conditions are good," said the warden, Shigeru Takenaka, as he led visitors around the facility in Kosuge, whose modern buildings were completed in 2012 and can house up more than 3,000 detainees.

At the moment, the facility is only at 60 percent capacity, with 1,758 occupants, a population that until April included Ghosn, who has been held at the detention centre on two separate occasions as prosecutors investigated him on allegations of financial misconduct.

His first stint lasted 108 days from his shock arrest on November 19. He won bail in March but was re-arrested shortly after and spent another 21 days at the facility before being freed a second time.

He remains in Tokyo on bail facing four counts of financial misconduct, which he denies.

- 'Balanced' meals -

During his detention, Ghosn reportedly lost weight and struggled with the rice-based prison diet. He was unable to communicate with his family, missing out on calling his daughter on her birthday.

His family and lawyers decried his treatment and the conditions of his detention, but officials at Kosuge present the facility as a model, kept scrupulously clean and well-ordered by its more than 800 employees.

But for the locks on the doors and the uniformed guards patrolling the corridors, it could be a hospital instead of a prison, with a population that is 90 percent male and made up of around 40 nationalities.

"The menus are prepared by nutritionists, they are balanced," said Takenaka.

Meals are centred around a bowl of rice, served alongside a main dish of vegetables and fish or meat and a bowl of soup, and offered three times a day.

Officials say the quantity depends on the activity levels of detainees, 84 percent of whom are between 20 and 59.

"Those who are on the larger side or do exercise have the right to larger portions," added Takenaka, apparently baffled by the foreign criticism of the facility.

Like many prisons, the facility also has its own shop, where visitors can buy snacks, magazines and other items to give detainees.

- Preventing suicide attempts -

Officials say there is no violence at the facility and disputes between detainees are rare -- even those who occupy the 200 cells that are shared, with six people to a 22.5 square metre (243 square feet) space.

Most of the cells -- 1,800 -- are individual, where detainees have 6.5 square metres (70 square feet) or slightly more if they have a Western-style bed instead of a Japanese-style floor mattress or futon.

The rooms are spare -- a toilet and sink, a shelf, bedding and a small table.

"Everything is designed to prevent suicide attempts," Takenaka said. "For example, the shelving is bent so that nothing can be attached to it."

Two or three times a week, detainees can wash in a facility similar to that at a mid-range Japanese hotel, with shower and a tub for bathing -- also spotlessly clean.

And they have access to an open-air space for exercise of 30 minutes a day, if they choose.

Ghosn spent most of his detention not in a cell but the facility's medical centre, which is staffed by nine doctors as well as nurses and open 24 hours a day.

Takenaka had no comment on critics who say detention at the facility is a means of extracting confessions from suspects, but said conditions at the centre maintained a balance.

"They need to be good, but not so good that living conditions in the prison are better than those of people living outside," he said.