It is a well-known fact that Japan has one of the worlds oldest populations, with a median age of 47 that’s well above the world median of 30. Japan’s population is both shrinking and aging at the same time. For decades economists have warned us about the threat of aging populations, and in the case of Japan, the consequences that this social phenomenon has had on the country are vast and can be seen on many aspects such as economic growth and interest rate. However, they might have just encountered a new repercussion, their senior citizens are purposely committing petty crimes in order to get themselves into jail.
Why is this happening?
For starters, there has been a shift in some family dynamics within Japanese societies. In the past, the elderly used to reside with their families. However, over the past 30 years, the number of senior citizens who live by themselves has been six-folded. As a result, some of them are now turning to jail, seeking for the sense of community and stability that they are lacking outside. In fact, elderly crime rates have nearly quadrupled over the last decade, and almost half of the seniors caught shoplifting reported living alone and having hardly any contact with their families. Some inmates have even stated that jail gives a new sense of purpose to their lives because they are able to work in prison factories, something that they would not be able to do on the outside.
Besides the emotional troubles that have led to this scene. There’s also a monetary element to the issue. Age increases economic vulnerability, this is not a strange situation given that in most parts of the world the elderly are usually the poorest part of the social spectrum, often living below the poverty line. In Japan, many elders are finding it increasingly hard to rely solely on welfare for their daily needs, and prison becomes an attractive option by guaranteeing them three meals per day, a roof above their heads and even medical facilities.
What are the effects?
Currently, 22% of women in prison are over 65 years old. And given that older people require more medical checkups and particular attention, this inherently increases the cost of maintaining prisons, which is already about $20 thousand per inmate, having already increased by 80% since 2005. Prisons are progressively resembling retirement homes, and although specialized employees have been hired to take care of the needs of the aged, according to Satomi Kezuka, an officer at Tochigi Women’s Prison, her job has come to resemble that of a “nursing-home attendant”, which in turn has spiked their labor turnover rates, causing a shortage of staff. As a matter of fact, approximately more than 30% of correctional officers quit their jobs within the first three years,
What do they plan to do about it?
Japan’s ministry of justice has stated that it will be up to each prison to adapt to the new necessities of their inmates. Right now some of them are trying to find a balance between keeping them healthy without making their conditions too comfortable. For example, in some prisons, elderly inmates are now allowed to sleep and work in their cells, instead of having to go to a prison factory every day but talking is still forbidden during working hours. Moreover, a law has already been passed that requires inmates to go through a rehabilitation process and get support from the welfare system once they leave prison in order to prevent recidivists.
Although Japan is currently leading the charts, it is important to mention that population aging is widespread across the world. Countries in Europe and America are also struggling with the effects of increasing longevity and declining fertility. As dependency ratios increases these counries will definitely face challenges regarding their pension and financial systems. Therefore, it is important to start adapting our institutions and taking preventable measures to fit new demographic models and avoid situations such as this one.