Japan is witnessing an escalating wave of theft crimes committed by elderly people over the age of 65, only to enter the prison and search for companionship, the vast majority of them women who resort to steal simple purposes to enter the prison to find someone to support them and ease their isolation. Prison, where good and abundant food, and companionship with peers, is better for them than to live alone.
In the past, care for the elderly in Japan fell to families and communities, but that changed from 1980 to the present. The number of elderly people living alone has more than quadrupled to nearly six million. A survey conducted by the Tokyo government in 2017 revealed that more than half of elderly people caught stealing from shops live alone; 40% of them either have no family or are rarely visited by relatives. These elderly people say they often have no recourse when they need help. Even older women who go somewhere feel disinterested by others, which is why they find their consolation in prison.
"They may have a house and a family, but that doesn't mean they feel recognized as human beings at home, but just as someone who has to do housework," says Wakuni prison director Yumi Moranaka, 30 miles outside Hiroshima.
Older women are often economically marginalized - nearly half of those women aged 65 or older - who live alone also face extreme poverty, compared with 29% of men, for example. "My husband died last year," says one prisoner. "We didn't have any children, so I was alone." "I went to a supermarket to buy vegetables, and I saw a bunch of beef, I wanted to buy it, but that would have been a financial burden for me, so I stole the meat."
Neither the government nor the private sector has developed an effective rehabilitation program for the elderly, so the costs of staying in prison have continued to rise. Expenditures associated with care for the elderly helped pay annual medical costs at the correctional facilities. Specialized workers are hired to help older inmates take a shower and use bathrooms during the day, but at night guards are entrusted with handling these tasks.
In some correctional facilities, a correctional officer becomes something like a nursing assistant at home. The officer at Tochigi Women's Prison, Satomi Kizoka, about 60 miles north of Tokyo, says her duties now include dealing with incontinence. "They are ashamed and hide their contaminated underwear," she says of the women prisoners. "But I persistently told them to bring him to wash me." That's why more than a third of the corrective officers quit their jobs in three years.
In 2016, the Japanese parliament passed a law aimed at ensuring that older people returning to prison receive support from the country's welfare systems and social services. Since then, prosecutor's offices and prisons have worked closely with government agencies to get the elderly to get the help they need. However, the psychological comfort of relatives, which women prisoners seek, lies outside the system of correctional institutions.
Toshio Takata, 69, a former prisoner, said he broke the law because he was poor. He wanted to live for free somewhere, even if he was behind bars. “I reached retirement age, and then I ran out of money,” he tells his story. "So I thought I could live for free if I went to jail." "So I stole a bike and went to the police station and told the policeman there: Look, this bike was stolen," he said. His plan succeeded, and it was his first crime, at the age of 62. But the Japanese courts deal with the theft of petty things firmly found, so he was sentenced to a year in prison. But after his release, he repeated his act, and this time he went to the park, threatening the women with a knife without intending to do any harm to them. He did so in order for someone to call the police to arrest him. He says he prefers to live in prison because he gets financial help there, and continues to receive his pension while in prison. “I don't like it, but I can stay there for free, and when I go out, I have saved some money,” he says. "So it's not painful to stay here."
Poverty is the cause
Keiko is another example of this group of elderly women. This is not her real name. She is 70 years old. "I couldn't get along with my husband, I didn't have a place to live, so my only choice was to steal," she said. "Even women in the 1980s, who can't walk properly, commit such crimes because they can't find food and money."
Theft is the biggest crime committed by elderly offenders, most of whom steal food worth less than 3,000 yen (£ 20) from any store they regularly visit. Michael Neumann, a demographic researcher of Australian descent at the Tokyo-based think tank, points out that Japan's "minimal" basic government pension is not enough to live in dignity.
In a paper published in 2016, Newman calculates that rent, food and health care costs alone make the pensioner fall into debt unless he has other income, and in the past it was customary for children to care for their parents, but the lack of economic opportunities in the provinces has driven many Young people to get away from their home, leaving their parents take care of themselves. “Retirees don't want to be a burden on their children,” he says. “They feel that if they can't live on the government pension, the only way they can bear the burden is to go to jail. Repeated misdemeanors are believed to be a way to "go back to jail," where he finds three meals a day, no bills, and "it almost seems like you got out of a job to come back."
Care of the elderly
Michael Neumann argues that it would be much better - and much cheaper - to care for the elderly without the government paying court and prison costs. “We can actually build a retirement village, where pensioners give up half of their pensions, in return for free food and accommodation, free health care and so on. “Playing games and sports with the rest of the population is relatively free, and it will cost less than the government currently spends on prisoners.”
But he also points out that the tendency of Japanese courts to impose jail terms for petty theft is "a bit strange, in terms of the punishment that actually suits the crime." "Theft of a 200 yen (£ 1.40) sandwich could lead to a government-paid tax bill of 8.4 million yen (£ 58,000) for a two-year prison sentence," he wrote in his 2016 report. “This may be a hypothetical example, but I met an elderly inmate who was sentenced to two years in prison for a second crime only: stealing a bottle of pepper worth £ 2.50.”
• The number of older people living alone has more than quadrupled to nearly 6 million.
• A survey conducted by the Tokyo government in 2017 revealed that more than half of the elderly who were caught stealing from shops live alone; 40% of them either have no family or are rarely visited by relatives.
Elderly people say they often have no recourse when they need help.
Prison more fun
Ms. N, 80, stole a normal book cover, sandwiches, and a hand fan, committed the third misdemeanor for theft, and was sentenced to three years in prison and two months, with a husband, two sons and six grandchildren. “Every day I was very lonely,” she tells her story. “My husband gave me a lot of money. People always told me how lucky I was, but money wasn't what I wanted, because it didn't make me happy at all.”
"It was the first time I was stolen about 13 years ago. I wandered into a bookstore in the city and stole a paperback with a paperback. He was nice to me and listened to everything I wanted to say.For the first time in my life, I felt that someone waited to hear me to the end, and gently patted me on my shoulder, and said, 'I understand you're alone, "But don't do it again."
"I can't tell you how much I enjoy working in the prison factory. The next day they praised my efficiency and accuracy, I felt happy at work. I regret that I have never worked before. "My life was different." "I enjoy my life in prison more than it was outside. There are always people around us. I don't feel lonely here. When I came out for the second time, I promised not to come back, but when I got out of prison, I couldn't resist the nostalgia to come back."
Mrs. T80 stole cod, seeds and a pan. She committed this misdemeanor for the fourth time, and was sentenced to two and a half years, has a husband, son and daughter. “When I was young, I didn't think of theft,” she says. All I thought about was working hard. I worked in a rubber factory for 20 years and then worked as a care worker in a hospital. Money has always been scarce, but we still have to send our son to college. ” "My husband suffered a stroke six years ago and has been bedridden since then," she continues. Dementia also suffers from delusions and paranoia. "We did a lot to take care of him physically and emotionally because of his age, but I couldn't talk about my stress with anyone because I was ashamed."
“I was imprisoned for the first time when I was 70 because I was robbed from a shop. I had money in my wallet at the time, but I thought about my life. I don't want to go home, I had nowhere else to go, I realized that going to prison was the only way. "My life is much easier in prison. I can feel myself breathing."
Older people who have completed their sentences could not resist the nostalgia of returning to prison. Archival
Psychological and not economic reasons
Kanichi Yamada, director of the rehabilitation center "with Hiroshima", also believes that the changes in Japanese families have contributed to the wave of crime for the elderly, but stresses that it is for psychological rather than financial reasons. "The relationship between people has changed, and the elderly have become more isolated, they have no place in this society, and they cannot tolerate loneliness," he says. He believes there are many reasons for this, such as the loss of a wife or children. These conditions. It is also believed that the elderly do not commit crimes if they are cared for and supported. Toshio's claim that he was imprisoned as a result of poverty is believed to be a "justification" for companionship, because the problem is isolation. It is true that Toshio feels lonely, because his parents are dead, he lost contact with two of his older brothers, who do not answer his calls, and also lost contact with his ex-wife, whom he divorced, and his three sons.
Isolation is the most important problem for the elderly in Japan. Archival