Kansai Scene Magazine


Old age prisoners

In Japan, the initials OAP may soon stand for ‘old age prisoners’ as the retired create a crime wave.

the back of the man

Even for a land in which the bizarre and outlandish is commonplace, the recent crime had caught people’s attention. At first the story may have seemed simple, a man had walked into a convenience store brandishing a knife and demanding money. While this kind of violent crime wasn’t unusual, there was an element that sparked the media’s interest, the perpetrator was in his 70s. It seems that recently the increase in the number of senior citizens has been causing more problems than just pension fears, it has introduced a new breed of criminal to Japan.

Known as the bousou roujin after a book by Tomomi Fujiwara which brought the problem to the public’s attention, the sheer number of these ‘out-of-control seniors’ is proving a constant bother to the Japanese authorities. Recently it was estimated that 12 per cent of the prison population is over retirement age, the highest proportion in the world. The trouble for Japan is that this number keeps growing even at a time when the crime rate for all other age groups has been falling. In some areas crimes by the elderly have even overtaken crimes by under-20s. Interviewed in the Washington Post, senior police officer Hirokazu Shibata stated that “theft used to be a crime of the young ... now it is overwhelmingly a crime of the old.”

The author Tomomi Fujiwara has no doubt about who is responsible: Japanese society itself. Tomomi’s opinion is simply that old people are no longer loved and cared for, resulting in a feeling of isolation that is making them start to lash out unexpectedly. The government would seem to agree. A recent white paper released by the Japanese Ministry blamed this sudden rise in criminal behavior on three principal factors, loneliness, ‘social isolation’ and ‘poverty.’

Certainly poverty cannot be ruled out as major factor as 59 per cent of the women and 65 per cent of the men caught claimed that the need to spend less was a big contributing factor to their decision to steal. This is reflected in the statistics as, according to a report printed in the Japanese Journal of Sociological Criminology, the overwhelming amount of senior prisoners were convicted of crimes like shoplifting. Larceny and embezzlement were likewise the most common white-collar crimes.

Even more bizarre are the 2.6 per cent of senior prisoners who have been imprisoned for ‘bodily injury crimes’. This trend has been increasingly worrying for Japan as frustrated pensioners are becoming violent, striking out at the people around them. Some pensioners have even said that they welcomed prison when they were arrested as a way to temporarily escape their stressful lives outside. In addition a growing number of criminals are widowers who put their crimes down to a desire to be taken care of and givenhome- cooked food. Whatever the reason, some pensioners are even taking it to horrific extremes. According to official statistics released by the police department recently, a murder committed by a person over the age of 65 happens every other day.

So what can be done? Most commentators agree that Japan needs to embrace its traditional values and offer the elderly more support when they retire. The only problem being that the recent trend has seen pensioners becoming further marginalized, their pensions becoming lost or damaged by a succession of hapless prime ministers. As Japan looks towards a future with more elderly people and less social welfare funds, the situation looks likely to get worse.

Text: Matthew Coslett • Image: KS

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