Though traditionally known for its low crime rates, elderly criminals in Japan are on the rise.  Elderly criminals are also much more likely to be sent back to jail than younger criminals, according to a government report released last week.  Almost a quarter of elderly former inmates were back in prison within two years of being released, compared to the average of 18 percent.

The reason for accelerating numbers of elderly in Japan's prisons is largely increased poverty among that group, in part due to their increasing number.  Most people over 65 commit petty crimes such as shoplifting and theft, with experts putting the rise down to increased economic hardship according to The Japan Times.

Sadly. the result is that Japanese prisons are increasingly like nursing homes.  The growing number of elderly criminals promped the Japanese government to approve a plan earlier this year to assign nursing care staff to about half of the country’s prisons. 

They are reportedly not easy places to spend the latter years of your life:

Poverty among the elderly is an increasing problem, and some experts say that may be at the root of a geriatric crime wave making Japanese prisons look increasingly like nursing homes.

The situation has become so dire that the government approved a plan to deploy nursing care staff to about half of Japan’s 70 prisons from April.

Prison life in Japan is far from easy — talking is forbidden while at work, inmates must walk single file, and bathing is restricted.

Even during rare events put on for their entertainment, prisoners are only allowed to sit ramrod straight with their hands on their laps. Applause is generally forbidden.


Despite this, they apparently compare favorably to a lonely life with little good food and unattractive accommodation for some, and some academics suspect that repeat shoplifting crime may actually often be a deliberate attempt to go back to prison because it offers free food, accommodation and healthcare.

Japan is the world’s first “ultra-aged” country, meaning more than 28 percent of its population will soon be over 65.  The latest figures show that 27.3 percent of Japan’s population of 127 million is 65 or older, and it is expected to increase to 37.7 percent by 2050. 

The problem exposes the economic issues a rapidly aging population causes, in particular for government welfare spending.  And causes many to worry that Japanese prisons will soon be over-run by the elderly.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...