Japan Data

Prison as a Safety Net for the Elderly in Japan


The number of elderly inmates in Japanese prisons is on the rise nationwide. Some elderly persons facing harsh living conditions are even violating the law intentionally on repeated occasions in order to be sentenced to prison.

The proportion of elderly inmates among the overall prison population in Japan is rising. In the past, it was thought that young people unable to discern right from wrong would be more likely to commit crimes, whereas antisocial behavior would be less likely as a person grows older and starts a family. Prisoners aged 60 and older made up only 2.5% of all inmates in 1976, whereas the 2017 White Paper on Crime shows that this age bracket now accounts for 3,750 prison inmates or 18.3% of the entire prison population of 20,467.

Among elderly inmates, theft was the most common offense for both men and women, but the proportion was particularly high in the case of elderly women, accounting for 88.4% of all the crimes they committed. Apparently quite a few elderly prisoners repeatedly engaged in shoplifting due to poverty and then became repeat offenders soon after release to return to a place where they could at least secure three meals a day and somewhere to sleep. In this sense, the prison system has become a sort of social “safety net” for such people.

According to a 2015 survey conducted by the Ministry of Justice, there are around 1,300 prisoners in Japan aged 60 or older who show signs of dementia. Prison authorities have noted that the burden on penal institutions is rising with the increase in older prisoners due to such factors as the need to provide them with daily living assistance and easy-to-consume food in paste form. Starting from fiscal 2019, any new prisoner 60 or older will undergo a simple diagnostic test for dementia, and those who exhibit signs of that condition will undergo an examination by a physician. The aim is to detect the condition at an early stage and provide treatment so that a person can return to ordinary society upon release from prison.

(Translated from Japanese. Banner photo: Pixta.)

elderly crime prison