Japan’s Prisoners Show Preference For Prison

Although Japan’s prisons are no luxury accommodation, some prisoners find it better being there than to be on the outside living penniless and frowned upon by a society that treat prisoners as an outcast.

That said, the conditions in Japan’s prisons are much better than in most prisons in the West.

Today, however, Japan is in a spot of bother as the ballooning cost in the upkeep of its prisons and providing for the healthcare and welfare of prisoners is taking toll on a budget that stands at 240 percent of Japan’s GDP.

According to a Bloomberg report, 1 in 5 inmates is over 60-year-old. The report also noted that among the developed economies, Japan has one of the highest proportions of elderly prisoners.

In a report, Ryotaro Sugi, an honorary special corrections officer, said some prisons increasingly resemble nursing homes.

“[Some inmates] groan at night from pain, throw their excrement or wander inside cells because they’re suffering from dementia,” Sugi reportedly said.

Healthcare costs have doubled over the past nine years through March 2015 and hospital admissions stood at 1,278 in 2012.

Moreover, Japan’s justice ministry has indicated that criminal offenses committed by those age 60 and over have quadrupled to 46,243 cases over two decades in 2014.

According to, many of Japan’s prisoners serve jail terms for minor offenses, such as shoplifting. In addition, it stated that under Japanese law, repeat offenders who shoplift can serve up to a five-year sentence, and a thief of a $8.30 bento lunch box could cost the country $134,160 for a maximum prison sentence.

A study based on a police survey revealed that elderly people who shoplift are likely to do so to counter feelings of loneliness and isolation. It also found about 8 percent of the elderly people surveyed — the second-largest group — cited lack of motivation in life, while 7 percent said their crimes were prompted by frustration, the police said. Forty percent live alone and 53 percent said they do not have any friends.

Koichi Hamai, a professor of criminology at Ryukoku University law school, said that in prison criminals can find companionship, food, and good care. However, outside, they lack family and financial support.

Japan is known as one of the world’s most law-abiding countries. It has an incarceration rate of 49 per 100,000 people compared to the U.S. with 698 per 100,000.

Yvad Billings, Readers Bureau, Fellow

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