November 05, 2007

Japan's Aging Prisoners

Social scientists frequently argue that people become less likely to commit crimes as they get older (though I wonder if white-collar crime is an exception). So it's strange to read, in The New York Times, that "Japan is confronting a sharp increase in the number of older criminals and prisoners." The U.S. prison population is aging, too, but mostly because of our long mandatory sentences. In Japan, the increase is being driven by an uptick in (mostly nonviolent) crime among the 65-and-up crowd:
A recent Justice Ministry report said that older people were increasingly turning to crime out of poverty and isolation, suggesting a breakdown in traditional family and community ties. With nowhere else to go, more of the older inmates serve out their full sentences, instead of being released on parole like younger prisoners. What is more, recidivism is higher among the older inmates.
There was an earlier Times piece documenting the stinginess of the Japanese welfare state, especially for the elderly, which explains a lot. As for recidivism, there's the fact that Japan tends to have an "unforgiving attitude" toward ex-convicts: "Relatives usually sever ties, so many inmates never receive visitors. In addition, welfare benefits are difficult to obtain; nursing homes are scarce and not a viable option for ex-convicts." They can't find work, can't afford rent, and frequently end up back in prison sooner or later. Come to think of it, the story isn't so different here in the United States.
-- Brad Plumer 4:55 PM || ||