FEATURE — Fall 2009

Law Professor John Owen Haley (left) is working with Joseph A. Scalise, Jr., recently retired chief deputy juvenile officer for the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court’s Special Services Department in St. Louis, on a project using neighborhood boards to reintegrate ex-offenders back into communities. (Photo: Joe Angeles)

Cooperative Communities Reduce Crime

An expert in Japanese law, and that country’s focus on cooperative behavior, Professor John Owen Haley works to implement a restorative-justice system to reduce crime and recidivism in our individualistic culture.

by Rick Skwiot

One key thing John Owen Haley learned studying Japanese law for 40 years—and in the process becoming one of the world’s leading authorities on it—is that cooperative communities help keep kids out of serious trouble, and also help keep Japan’s crime rate the lowest in the industrialized world. Now Professor Haley has devised a plan that would mimic Japan’s community-based restorative-justice system here in St. Louis, and this plan could ultimately impact America’s crime problem.

While the future of Haley’s proposal remains uncertain, its historical basis in Japan is clear and compelling.

Community as the key
“Cooperative behavior is a fundamental feature of Japanese social and economic life,” says Haley, the William R. Orthwein Distinguished Professor of Law. The village or “mura,” he argues, is “Japan’s dominant social and political paradigm,” growing out of a millennium of cooperative wet-paddy rice production in small communities.

That communitarian ethic—contrasting to a more individualistic culture in the West and particularly in the United States—informs Japan’s criminal-justice system even today. It demands close attention, says Haley, due to Japan’s “phenomenal reduction of violent crime and victimization during the past six decades,” producing the lowest crime rate among industrialized nations. At the core of that success rests restorative justice.

“If a person acknowledges what he did and makes retribution, they take a very lenient approach and don’t put the person in prison,” in most cases, says Haley.

An expert in Japanese as well as comparative law, Professor John Owen Haley (left) advises students such as recent law school graduate Tae-Ho Kim, LLM ’09, a prosecutor from Seoul, South Korea. (Photo: Joe Angeles)

Further, Japanese police do not have to report petty crime and in juvenile cases will call the parents and begin a process that often leads to an apology to the victim, restitution or reparations for damages, and, if reported, a suspension of prosecution, says Haley.

“A third of all offenders are not prosecuted,” he says. “They have high conviction rates on those they do prosecute, but 50 percent receive suspended sentences. It’s a process that’s beneficial to the victims, who get an apology and restitution, and to the community. The offender is thus identified and support provided for the family.” A go-between brings together the victim and the offender, says Haley, “so the kid is no longer a stranger” to the victims.

Citing Japan’s dropping crime rate, Haley calls its integrated system “an effective approach to criminal justice” that “reduces recidivism and crime.”

Now he’s curious whether such a system can work well in an individualistic culture that historically has been “much more retributive” in dealing with offenders than communitarian Japan.

Serendipitous beginnings to a distinguished career
Haley’s own introduction to Japan came serendipitously. As a Princeton University international studies undergraduate focused on Latin America, Europe, and in particular Spain, he won a two-year teaching fellowship that landed him, unexpectedly, in Japan.

“I had never been there, had taken no course on Japan, and had never even had Japanese food,” says Haley.

But after two years in Japan “reading and traveling,” he became “a Japan buff.” When he entered Yale Law School in fall 1966, he had an epiphany: “I discovered that I liked Japan as much as I liked law.”

Despite discouraging words from a professor (“There’s no future in Japanese law. You can’t practice there, and you can’t teach there.”), Haley secretly persisted, auditing a Japanese language course during his first year of law school.

During his third year, he met a man who changed his life—the late Dan Fenno Henderson, a leading Japanese law scholar and founder of the University of Washington School of Law Asian and Comparative Law program. Henderson, who had come to Yale to lecture, recruited Haley despite Haley’s lack of Japanese fluency—a requirement for entry to the program. Haley corrected that with two quarters of intensive Japanese language study in Seattle. He subsequently won a Fulbright scholarship to Japan, spending a year of research at Kyoto University and two years with the Blakemore & Mitsuki law firm in Tokyo.

He returned to join the faculty at the University of Washington School of Law, ultimately becoming the Garvey, Schubert, and Barer Professor of Law and of International Studies; and director of the Asian Law Program (now Center). Along the way he served as visiting law faculty at Japanese universities in Tokyo, Sendai, and Kobe, as well as at Harvard University and universities in Europe and Australia.

His publications include The Spirit of Japanese Law (University of Georgia Press, paperback ed. 2006) and numerous articles on Japanese law and governance topics, ranging from legal reforms to transnational jurisdiction, real estate law, trade barriers, and informal justice.

After 25 years, in 2000, he moved from the University of Washington to Washington University because, he says, “[former law school dean] Joel Seligman is a great recruiter.”

Shifting interests
But under that tongue-in-cheek response rests a fundamental shift in his scholarly focus that keyed his move.

Support for his Asian Law Program at the University of Washington was diminishing despite its worldwide reputation, with a shrinking staff and a move “from offices to carrels,” says Haley. “I was spending a lot of time simply maintaining the program.”

Also, thanks in part to a comparative law casebook project Haley undertook—examining legal systems not only of Japan but also Western Europe and Latin America—he became involved as a teacher in broader themes of comparative law.

“I was moving away from a Japan or East Asia focus to a more comprehensive, comparative one, drawing lessons from Japan,” says Haley. “At Washington University, I could pursue it more fully. The timing couldn’t have been better.”

Haley has excelled as a scholar both in Japanese law and comparative law, according to colleague John N. Drobak, the George Alexander Madill Professor of Real Property & Equity Jurisprudence. “John Haley is America’s pre-eminent Japanese law scholar without a doubt,” says Drobak, “and he ranks among a handful of America’s best comparative law scholars. In addition, he is a wonderful colleague, a very nice and kind man. I like John because he’s an intellectual, really interested in ideas.”

Another colleague, David S. Law, professor of law, who recently served as a visiting professor in Tokyo, says Washington University is “incredibly fortunate” to have Haley on its faculty. “I doubt there is any American legal scholar who is more widely known or more highly esteemed in Japan than John Haley. He makes the study of Japanese law a matter of lively intellectual debate, and his enthusiasm for the subject is contagious,” says Law. “There is no single perspective—political, economic, cultural, social, or historical—that characterizes his work. What he offers readers is a 360-degree view of Japanese legal institutions in their full context, which is a remarkable achievement. While there can be no questioning his sheer knowledge of Japan, what I enjoy most about his work is his penchant for upsetting conventional wisdom and challenging head-on the views of other scholars.”

Surprising research
That Haley penchant seemingly extends to perceptions of him as well. Says Drobak, “I was surprised by the practical [restorative-justice] project coming from a man noted for scholarly achievements.”

Also surprised—and excited—by Haley’s project is Joseph A. Scalise, Jr., recently retired chief deputy juvenile officer for the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court’s Special Services Department in St. Louis. “It’s a great proposal, on the cutting edge, and very true to restorative-justice principles. We have the roots here of something really big,” says Scalise, something with the potential to alter criminal justice nationwide. “I’m pretty excited about it.”

While the circuit court has been working with neighborhood volunteer boards to try to keep juvenile offenders out of jail since 2003, Haley’s proposal would expand and deepen the impact of restorative justice here, adding key players to the boards and also using the boards to help reintegrate juvenile and adult ex-offenders into the community.

“Professor Haley wants to get the police and social workers involved on the boards and also use the boards for re-entry of both juvenile and adult ex-offenders who are being released from correctional facilities,” says Scalise. This, he says, would enable the community “to see police in a totally different light” distinct from their traditional law-enforcement duties.

“It takes rehabilitation a step further,” says Scalise, “building connections with people for ex-offenders, who are very isolated, and providing understanding to get them reintegrated back into the community rather than reintegrated back into the gang.”

“Professor Haley wants to get the police and social workers involved on the [neighborhood] boards and also use the boards for re-entry of both juvenile and adult ex-offenders who are being released from correctional facilities,” says Scalise. “It takes rehabilitation a step further.”

Haley believes that this process of connecting offenders and ex-offenders to the victims and the community through go-betweens—such as mutual friends, community acquaintances, and community leaders—works in Japan “to reduce the sense of estrangement and reinforce community.” He hopes it will work in St. Louis.

Says Haley: “I’m taking what I learned from Japan and finding ways to apply it here. I’m now finally doing research with a practical application.”

Rick Skwiot is a freelance writer based in Key West, Florida.