Help for elderly, disabled recidivists crucial for rehabilitation into society

From The Yomiuri &The Japan News, Saturday 23rd August 2014

The Yomiuri ShimbunPublic prosecutors are working to rehabilitate elderly people and people with intellectual disabilities who repeat relatively minor crimes, such as shoplifting and skipping out on restaurant bills, to help them rejoin society.

In cooperation with welfare experts, prosecutors are trying to secure places at welfare facilities for such people, as well as seeking to get their indictments suspended or receive suspended sentences in court.

Preventing repeat offenses is important to protect the public’s safety. It is understandable that prosecutors are exploring ways to achieve this in keeping with suspects and defendants’ circumstances, instead of just sending them to prison, thereby encouraging them to regain their footing in society.

Since January last year, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has recruited social welfare workers as part-time employees to help prosecutors with specific assistance measures.

For example, an elderly man arrested on suspicion of shoplifting was placed in a nursing home after a suspended indictment, as he was suspected of suffering from dementia. More than 350 people have received welfare assistance and medical treatment in the past 1½ years without serving prison terms.

In Nagasaki, Otsu and elsewhere, panels comprising psychiatrists and other experts investigate the degree of disability of each defendant and compile reports that district public prosecutors can refer to when they seek penalties. Sendai and 19 other district public prosecutors offices cooperate with local probation offices and help probation officers find places for suspects to live after they are released.

Such endeavors are an attempt to take advantage of welfare networks and expertise.

No end to repeat offenses

The driving force behind these efforts is the seemingly endless number of repeat offenses committed by the elderly and mentally disabled.

According to a Justice Ministry white paper on crime, the number of elderly persons serving prison terms has been continually increasing, with the figure for 2012 more than five times that seen 20 years before. More than 70 percent of the prisoners were repeat offenders.

A survey of inmates suspected to have mental disabilities shows they served 3.8 prison terms, on average, and some of them had been imprisoned more than five times.

It is hard to say that serving time in prison has led to rehabilitation in such cases. If they have no place to live and work and no prospects for their lives after completing their jail terms, released prisoners will repeat crimes and end up being jailed again.

Severe punishments must be imposed for heinous crimes, but depending on the case, it could be an effective public safety measure to treat elderly offenders or those with intellectual disabilities from a welfare standpoint.

Welfare assistance for repeat offenders would have the additional benefit of preventing the overcrowding of prisons and reducing the costs of operating them.

However, much remains to be done to sufficiently implement welfare assistance. The Justice Ministry and prosecutors offices must cooperate with the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and local governments to increase the number of welfare facilities that can accept repeat offenders.

The prosecutors must also examine the effects of welfare assistance to verify that recipients can be rehabilitated and that such steps deter repeat offenses.


Holidays & BBC Ouch on Chopsticks and Disability

I am holiday, Bon or Obon, a festival for the dead held in August here in Japan. I am Tokushima, on Shikoku Island, famous for its ‘Awa Odori’, ‘Awa Dance’. Awa is the old name for the area and the Dance is kind of Sisyphean middle finger to death.

But I had to share this with you, Kathleen Hawkins of BBC Ouch on chopsticks and disability.


A Different Empty Seat on Another Crowded Train

The doors slid open on the nearly vacant subway car and a mass of passengers piled in.  All the available seats were filed in a wild flurry.

Well, almost all.

People either spurned the empty seat or ignored it as if it were occupied. – Baye McNeil, Hi! My name is Loco and I am a Racist

Of course, people might not be sitting down for a variety of reasons.  Maybe they only have a couple of stations stops before home, so don’t see the point, or maybe there are letting a family member sit down.  But those are the only two good reasons, as Baye McNeil notes, if there is an empty seat next to you, the reasons for its being left vacant are rarely good, there are some Japanese people it seems, are afraid of foreigners, so as they rather stand than sit next to them.

The situation is slightly different if you come to Japan with a physical disability. There are seats put aside for the disabled, elderly, pregnant and the young, these are the ‘priority seats’, usually a couple of benches at each end of each carriage.  People (I say people, but it is usually a female member of the population that actually gives her seat up) do usually give up a seat to those in need, save for the exception of the odd salaryman, who either pretends to be asleep or, on occasion is drinking a can of beer, if the latter is the case he is often met by death stares from his fellow natives that seem to say ‘stop letting the side down’, quite heartening actually, to see such concern for the Japanese public self-image.

When I first moved to Japan, I thought simply that may hosts are very gracious, often giving up their seats for me, and do not mistake me, they are kind, but recently I have noticed another aspect to the act of giving up your seat, a darker side to the exchange.

The act of giving up your seat, especially if it is a very busy train, is a very public affair.  You get up and give your seat to another commuter, and it will often be to a foreigner, disabled, elderly person or someone who is pregnant.  People may have to make room for you as you get up and they sit down, so people do notice when give up your seat.   That it is noticed, imbues the act with a certain  performative character, almost as if the one giving up is playing the central role in the play ‘helping the unfortunate on the train’.  There is certain rules and moves to this role, which like a Kabuki actor, you must execute with no deviation from the script.  Here are the rules:

(1 Once you accept the role of ‘seat giver-upper’ you may show no signs of physical fatigue yourself. 

You may have had a long day at work, it maybe a Summer’s day, but if you give up your seat, you may not sweat, you may not sigh, you may not yawn or show any signs of fatigue at all.  It would simply be bad form to give up your seat to the physically encumbered, and then look like you were complaining that you were tired.

(2  You may not sit down, even if another seat becomes available.

That’s right good Samaritan, giving up your seat means you can never get it back, you are condemned to a vertical train journey.  Even if most of the seats are free in the priority seats section and person you gave it up for has left the train. This is really a sub-section of rule one, of not showing fatigue. 

(3  You must stand in front of the person who now occupies your seat, hanging from the handle bars.

Why be charitable unless you can guilt the person you helping?  That is the only reason I can think of to explain why people do this.  If they were trying to help me as a disabled person they would sit down, and therefore be out of my way.  But no, even if you motion towards an empty seat, they will not take it.  Maybe they have yet to compete the final act of their ‘priority-seat martyr’ Kabuki play, that of suffering by having to stand despite the many empty seats.

(4  You can expect lots of gratitude.

And of course, being brought up to mind my P’s and Q’s I begrudge no one a few arigatogaimashitas.  But there are some for whom that is not enough, and a saviour complex quickly develops.  You came on this train, sat down, then got up and with selflessness of Samurai facing battle, you gave up your seat to the disabled foreigner or pregnant lady.  You stood there, hanging from the stabilising handle bars for thirty minutes, eschewing the empty seats that you could have sat on so that people could see you giving up your seat, and recognise as the Saviour and Protector of the Priority Seats and all you got for that was one measly arigato? Unbelievable!

Well no actually, that’s being a good person.  Enjoy your journey.  Mine’s the next stop.