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Learning from international experiences- Japan’s long history of volunteering in Probation

Although it is important to understand that transferring policies and practices across jurisdictions is never possible, looking further afield when trying to develop a European training programme for volunteering in Probation, can be really useful. As part of our CoPPeR evidence review, we have for example looked at what we can learn from places such as Kenya, Germany and Japan to mention a few. Here, we provide a short overview of volunteering in Japanese Probation Services.

Japan is often considered a pioneer in the field of volunteering in probation (Kato, 2018), considering that their first probation efforts date back to 1888. As early as 1950, the Volunteer Probation Officer Act institutionalised the role of volunteers in probation. This Act officially recognises the earlier established system of using volunteers under the supervision of professional probation officers. Volunteers have therefore a unique position in Japan, and are recognised as “respected people with authority and good standing”. Japanese society highly values civil engagement and especially honours voluntary probation workers whose character and personality are seen as their main assets. This is evidenced by the sheer size of VPO involvement in Japan - approximately 52.500 citizens work as VPOs (Hogoshi, 2023) while being supported by 1.100 official employees (Kato, 2018). Organisationally, Directors of Probation Offices communicate with local communities and VPO associations to develop a list of possible volunteers which are then appointed by the Minister of Justice after having consulted with local courts, legal services and other relevant entities. VPOs are granted an official legal status as part-time government officials. The main goals are defined as helping adult and juvenile offenders to rehabilitate as well as raising the public’s awareness on crime prevention (Art. 1, Volunteer Probation officers Act 1950). The VPO receives some limited training while being supervised continuously by their Probation Officers. Their work includes not only day-to-day engagement with the community but also regular progress reports to the respective Probation Officer. More specifically, these five areas of engagement constitute the work of VPOs in Japan (Minoura, 2017): (1) Probation (supervision and support of adult and juvenile probationers) (2) Parole (from granting parole to the supervision and support of adult and juvenile parolees) (3) Aftercare services for discharged offenders (providing various kinds of support and helping them rehabilitate) (4) Pardon (5) Crime prevention activities (locally and nationally) Mainly the VPOs’ work includes meeting with the beneficiary on a regular basis in order to provide advice and information (ibid). The main goal here is to befriend the beneficiary as a neighbour and assist them towards rehabilitation (ibid). This work is usually only conducted with low- and medium-risk offenders who do not pose a great danger to volunteers. VPOs 12 also assist in the coordination of resettlement of offenders from prison to residential areas, assessing their social circumstances by using their unique knowledge of the local community (ibid). Japan has been disseminating their approach to volunteering in probation services in the Philippines, Singapore and South Korea with similar volunteer systems developed as a result in Thailand and Malaysia (ibid). Not only does Japan host the regional Asia VPO meeting in Tokyo but also develops research evidence and knowledge from practice in order to make this approach to probation sustainable nationally and beyond (ibid).


Kato, Saki. "Probation in Japan: Engaging the Community." Irish Probation Journal 15 (2018).

Minoura, S. (2017). Volunteer Probation Officers in Japan. Third World Congress on Probation, Tokyo.

Confederation of European Probation. (2023). Hogoshi: Volunteer Probation Officers in Japan.

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