BloombergBusiness reported a sharp uptick in crime rates among senior citizens around the world. In South Korea for example, crimes committed by people 65 and over rose 12.2 percent from 2011 to 2013, which includes a shocking 40 percent increase in violent crime, such as murder, robbery, and rape, according to the Korea Times.
Geriatric crime in Japan has also risen, almost doubling since 2003, The Telegraph reported. The elderly now accounts for more shoplifting offenses than teenagers there.
In the Netherlands, a 2010 study revealed a similar spike in arrest rates and incarceration among the elderly. And in London, arrests of the elderly have risen 10 percent since 2009. The number of senior citizens in prison has also risen at a rate three times that of the overall prison population over the last decade, according to Bloomberg.
The US, however, may be bucking the trend. The rate of elderly crime among seniors has decreased since the 1980s, according to Bloomberg. While the elderly prison population has grown by 550% over the last 25 years, it may be attributable to longer prison sentences for drug -related crimes, as The New York Times notes.
But according to data portal IndexMundi, the United States also can’t claim as large a senior population as Japan (25% over the age of 65), the United Kingdom (18% over the age of 65), or the Netherlands (18% over the age of 65). The senior demographic that currently comprises 14% of the US population, however, is set to rise in the coming years as people live longer.
Factors such as inadequate retirement savings and the increased costs of medical care and food can attract a senior citizen to crime. Emotions, like loneliness, isolation, depression, stress, anxiety, inadequacy, and boredom, might play a role, as well.
South Korea blames the spike in senior crime on higher poverty rates among the elderly.
The Netherlands concluded in its report that the spike in elderly crime can be attributed to “psychiatric, psychological, financial-economic, judicial, and psycho-social factors.”
All this news comes with a warning. As people continue to live longer, there will be a growing senior population susceptible to crime.
In 2017, South Korea officially became an “aged society”. It reached this milestone at a faster pace than any other developed country and is predicted to become a “super-aged society” in 2026. The World Health Organization defines a society as “aged” when more than 14% of the population is 65 or over, and “super-aged” when it reaches more than 21%.
Japan, with a rate of 27%, has long passed these markers and is wrestling with the difficulties of caring for its enormous ageing population. In addition to the strain on the economy and healthcare system, these challenges include an elderly crime rate that has quadrupled over the past couple of decades.
In Japanese prisons, one out of every five inmates is a senior citizen. Half of the seniors caught shoplifting reported living alone, and 40% of them said they either don’t have family or rarely speak to them. It has been reported that a significant number are even committing petty crimes so they can go to prison.
Against a backdrop of isolation, poverty and mental health issues, a trend of rising elderly crime might not be as surprising as it first appears – and may become a growing problem for ageing societies around the world.
Elderly crime is on the rise in South Korea. Official statistics recorded a 45% increase in the past five years in crimes committed by people age 65 and over. Serious crimes including murder, arson, rape and robbery rose 70%, from about a thousand cases in 2013 to more than 1,800 in 2017.
More than 14% of South Koreans are over 65, making the country an official “aged society” under a United Nations classification. Yet while they are living longer, many cannot support themselves financially as they age. About 60% of elderly Koreans do not qualify for the national pension, which was not introduced until 1988 or made compulsory until the late 1990s, and in 2017 half were living in relative poverty.
“With no jobs to allow the elderly to contribute to society, they feel disconnected and this can lead to animosity toward others, depression and antisocial behavior,” said Cho Youn-oh, a professor and criminologist at Seoul’s Dongguk University.
“Isolation and feeling that they have nothing to lose could lead them to lose control and behave recklessly. ”
The number of crimes committed by senior citizens increased by 45% in the past five years, according to police and government statistics reported by the South Korean media.
While this is not a new phenomenon – according to the Korea Herald, elderly crime has been increasing for more than a decade – the latest figures reveal the number of serious crimes including murder, rape and robbery committed by older Koreans rose 70% between 2013 and 2017, and physical assaults were up by 43%. At the same time, the country experienced a fall in the overall crime rate.
The surge in senior offending coincides with soaring life expectancy. A 2017 study published in The Lancet projected that women born in South Korea in 2030 would be the first in the world to have an average life expectancy of above 90.
Experts have identified a number of potential overlapping causes for South Korea’s elderly crime wave, including an ageing population and rising poverty, social isolation and mental health issues among pensioners.
Nearly half (48.6%) of Koreans aged 65 or over live in relative poverty, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the highest level among the 34 OECD countries.
The suicide rate among the elderly increased from 35 per 100,000 in 2000 to 82 in 2010, well over the OECD average of 22.
A study from Sungkyunkwan University found about 25% of Koreans aged 65 and over ate every meal by themselves during the past year. And 21% have experienced depression, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
Japan has the world’s oldest population, with more than a quarter of its citizens aged 65 or older.
National Public Radio in the United States reported on a fascinating phenomenon in Japanese society that has been increasingly discussed in recent years: Senior citizens in Japan are committing crimes at increasing rates. The rate at which Japanese over the age of 65 have been arrested, for mostly petty crimes, has grown from 80 per 100,000 residents from 1995 to 2005 to a rate of 162 per 100,000 residents in the decade ending in 2015, the report notes. Fifty-nine percent of these crimes, per 2012 data from the National Police Agency, involved shoplifting. The cause may have to do with unproductive retirees feeling “isolated and bored.” Japan’s elderly, who were brought up during and after the war, and they had to survive harsh conditions. In 2013, Bloomberg noted that given inadequate social security provisions, many seniors simply hope to be arrested for petty crimes to receive food and housing.
In prisons, one out of every five inmates is a senior citizen. And in many cases — nine out of 10, for senior women — the crime that lands them in jail is petty shoplifting.
The unusual phenomenon stems from the difficulties of caring for the country’s elderly population. The number of Japanese seniors living alone increased by 600% between 1985 and 2015, Bloomberg reported. Half of the seniors caught shoplifting reported living alone, the government discovered last year, and 40% of them said they either don’t have family or rarely speak to them.
“They may have a house. They may have a family. But that doesn’t mean they have a place they feel at home,” Yumi Muranaka, head warden of Iwakuni Women’s Prison, told Bloomberg.
It costs more than $20,000 a year to keep an inmate in jail, according to Bloomberg, and elderly inmates drive that cost even higher with special care and medical needs. Prison staff members are increasingly finding themselves preforming the duties of a nursing home attendant. But female inmates interviewed by Bloomberg suggested they feel a sense of community in prison that they never felt on the outside.
Intentionally getting arrested isn’t necessarily unique to Japan. In the United States, for example, there have been cases of people deliberately getting locked up to gain access to healthcare, avoid harsh weather conditions, or force themselves to quit a drug habit.
Every aging society faces distinct challenges. But Japan, with the world’s oldest population (27.3 percent of its citizens are 65 or older, almost twice the share in the U.S.), has been dealing with one it didn’t foresee: senior crime. Complaints and arrests involving elderly people, particularly women, are taking place at rates above those of any other demographic group. Almost 1 in 5 women in Japanese prisons is a senior. Their crimes are usually minor—9 in 10 senior women who’ve been convicted were found guilty of shoplifting. Most women in prison in Japan are charged with petty theft, they steal things like energy drinks, coffee, tea, a rice ball, a mango. A 78-year-old woman says:
“Prison is an oasis for me—a place for relaxation and comfort. I don’t have freedom here, but I have nothing to worry about, either. There are many people to talk to. They provide us with nutritious meals three times a day.
“My daughter visits once a month. She says ‘I don’t feel sorry for you. You’re pathetic.’ I think she’s right.”
An 80 year old woman says:
“I was alone every day and feeling very lonely. My husband gave me a lot of money, and people always told me how lucky I was, but money wasn’t what I wanted. It didn’t make me happy at all.
“The first time I shoplifted was about 13 years ago. I wandered into a bookstore in town and stole a paperback novel. I was caught, taken to a police station, and questioned by the sweetest police officer. He was so kind. He listened to everything I wanted to say. I felt I was being heard for the first time in my life. In the end, he gently tapped on my shoulder and said, ‘I understand you were lonely, but don’t do this again.’
“I can’t tell you how much I enjoy working in the prison factory. The other day, when I was complimented on how efficient and meticulous I was, I grasped the joy of working. I regret that I never worked. My life would have been different.
“I enjoy my life in prison more. There are always people around, and I don’t feel lonely here. When I got out the second time, I promised that I wouldn’t go back. But when I was out, I couldn’t help feeling nostalgic.”
When asked why they came back so soon, they said: ‘I was so lonely.’
When they got out of jail, they said they would never want to come back but once they were out, because they had a criminal record and were older than 60, they didn’t have many relatives to depend on, no friends, and wondered how they could live their lives. So, they shoplifted again.
Why have so many otherwise law-abiding elderly women resorted to petty theft? Caring for Japanese seniors once fell to families and communities, but that’s changing. From 1980 to 2015, the number of seniors living alone increased more than sixfold, to almost 6 million. And a 2017 survey by Tokyo’s government found that more than half of seniors caught shoplifting live alone; 40 percent either don’t have family or rarely speak with relatives. These people often say they have no one to turn to when they need help.
Even women with a place to go describe feeling invisible. “They may have a house. They may have a family. But that doesn’t mean they have a place they feel at home,” says Yumi Muranaka, head warden of Iwakuni Women’s Prison, 30 miles outside Hiroshima. “They feel they are not understood. They feel they are only recognized as someone who gets the house chores done.”
Elderly women are also often economically vulnerable—nearly half of those 65 or older who live alone also live in poverty relative to the broader population, for example, compared with 29 percent of men. “My husband died last year,” one inmate says. “We didn’t have any children, so I was all alone. I went to a supermarket to buy vegetables, and I saw a package of beef. I wanted it, but I thought it would be a financial burden. So I took it.”
At some facilities, being a correctional officer has come to resemble being a nursing-home attendant. Satomi Kezuka, a veteran officer at Tochigi Women’s Prison, about 60 miles north of Tokyo, says her duties now include dealing with incontinence. “They are ashamed and hide their underwear,” she says of the inmates. “I tell them to bring it to me, and I will have it washed.” More than a third of female correctional officers quit their jobs within three years.
In 2016, Japan’s parliament passed a law aiming to ensure that recidivist seniors get support from the country’s welfare and social-service systems. Since then, prosecutor’s offices and prisons have worked closely with government agencies to get senior offenders the assistance they need. But the problems that lead these women to seek the relative comfort of jail lie beyond the system’s reach.
Elderly people continue to work well into their 80s and sometimes their 90s and beyond. Some private companies have responded by increasing retirement ages. Meanwhile, Japan’s official retirement age, standing today at 62, is poised to increase to 65 by 2025. (The plan is to gradually increase the age by one year every three years.)
Meanwhile, despite the bleak demographic picture and rapid aging, Japan has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the developed world. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate stood at 3.0 percent this summer, effectively representing full employment. The shrinking total labor force size is at the root of many of Japan’s macroeconomic woes, despite encouraging employment numbers. Japan has long struggled with productivity and, as a result, overall economic growth. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s three-pronged Abenomics set of fiscal, monetary and structural reforms have sought to address this in a variety of ways, including by encouraging women’s participation in the labor force and encouraging Japanese corporations to reform their working culture. Japanese statistics show that 40 percent of the country will be senior citizens by 2060, encouraging older Japanese who are willing to work and have the creative and productive energy necessary to participate in the labor force will be critical. Nevertheless, the elderly isn’t the place to look for a solution to Japan’s productivity and growth problems. While the increasing criminality and labor participation rates among Japanese older than 65 is suggestive of productive impulses, it’s also true that many Japanese would simply prefer to retire and enjoy their golden years.
The cases of seniors hoping to be sent to jail so they can receive food and housing without financial burden underscores a broader need for addressing economic self-sufficiency for Japan’s elderly.
The number of crimes recorded in Japan continued to decline in the first half of 2019 and the full-year figure is expected to reach its lowest postwar level for the fifth consecutive year, police said Thursday.
In the first six months of 2019, crimes dropped 8.7 percent from a year earlier to 363,846, due mainly to fewer reported cases of theft, which account for over 70 percent of the total, according to a preliminary report from the National Police Agency.
“The decline seems to reflect the spread of surveillance cameras and the effects of public-private efforts to prevent crimes,” an agency official said.
The full-year crime figure has continued to drop from a peak in 2002 when 2,853,739 cases were recorded by police.
In the January-June period, the number of crimes fell in all the main categories. Felonies including murders and robberies were down 5.1 percent to 2,352 and violent offenses, such as assaults, down 3.2 percent to 27,967.
Theft cases decreased 9.1 percent to 257,183, crimes such as indecent assaults slid 8.5 percent to 3,952 and white-collar crimes including fraud dropped 14.0 percent to 18,132.
Among more serious crimes, the number of robbery and arson cases fell, but the number of murder and rape cases increased.
Those age 65 or older accounted for 16.2 percent of total victims of crime and of those that were targeted in fraud cases 50.5 percent were elderly citizens.
Senior citizens made up 80.6 percent of the total victims of fraud cases in which perpetrators impersonate the person’s children or their grandchildren and ask for urgent money transfers over the phone.
By area, Tokyo saw the most crimes at 50,316, followed by 41,319 in Osaka. Akita Prefecture was the most crime-free of the country’s 47 prefectures, with just 996 crimes reported.
Police took enforcement actions in 141,328 cases against 92,877 offenders, down 7.5 percent and 7.4 percent, respectively, with the number of juveniles between 14 and 19 years old subjected to police action for crimes slipping 17.4 percent to 9,397.
Forty-four prefectures saw a decrease in the number of criminal offenses. Numbers rose in Fukui, Kagawa and Tokushima prefectures.
Surveillance cameras and other images helped identify suspects in 9.9 percent of all cases police dealt with, up 1.1 points, according to the data.
Women subjected to sexual assault on Tokyo’s crowded transport system were once as likely to ignore it: Chikan (groping) was not widely dealt with as a crime until the mid-1990s. Now the police spend considerable energy trying to catch offenders.
One reason is that the police have more time. Crime rates have been falling for 14 years. In the last six months of 2017 they set a new low after falling the previous year below the one million mark for the first time since the second World War.
The murder rate of 0.3 per 100,000 people is among the lowest in the world, and roughly half Ireland’s rate. (In America, where violent crime is rising at its fastest pace since the 1970s, it is more than 5). Gun-deaths rarely rise above 10 a year.
Virtually the one rising criminal fraternity is the elderly. Senior citizens now account for about 20 per cent of arrests and detentions. As the population ages the over 65s commit nearly four times more crimes than they did two decades ago.
One result is that Japan’s jails are filling up with the infirm: more inmates need help with walking, bathing and even using the toilet. The government recently allocated a budget to send care workers to about half of the nation’s prisons.
Yet, Japan has more than 15,000 more police personnel than it had a decade ago, when crime rates were far higher. The density of officers per population is particularly marked in Tokyo, home to the world’s biggest metropolitan police force. As they run out of things to do, however, police are becoming more inventive about what constitutes a crime, says Kanako Takayama, a professor of criminal law at Kyoto University. In one recent case, she says, they arrested a group of people who had shared the fees for a rented car because they judged it was an illegal taxi.
Critics who fret about over-enthusiastic police cite a week-long stakeout in 2016, in Kyushu, southwest Japan. Five officers watched over a case of beer in an unlocked car outside a supermarket in Kagoshima, scene of a series of car robberies, before pouncing on the hapless middle-aged man who eventually helped himself. A judge dismissed the case, which he called an unnecessary and expensive sting operation.
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