Grey criminals

I hope I’m this active when I turn 70, though preferably outside a prison cell.

From 2000 to 2006, the number of older inmates soared by 160 percent, to 46,637, from 17,942, according to Japan’s National Police Agency. Shoplifting accounted for 54 percent of the total in 2006 and petty theft for 23 percent.

As a result, penitentiaries are struggling to adapt environments designed with the young in mind to a lawbreaking population that is fragile physically and often mentally.

The “hard labour” programmes involve knitting and making envelopes, while the inmates can have a lie down if they feel ill.

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.

Turning to crime out of poverty is not unheard of. During the Great Famine in Ireland, many committed petty crimes in order to be jailed — because there they would be fed regularly (Cork Gaol is my reference here).

Prison life in Japan isn’t so bad, as it’s fairly non-violent. However, criminals are cut loose from their families and so don’t receive visitors. This explains the recidivism rate — it’s a place for human contact as well as a place to stay.

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