Friday, January 04, 2008

Aged Offenders in Japan

Think we’ll do the same here?

Faced with a prison population ageing as rapidly as the rest of the country, Japan plans to build new jails with disabled access, including elevators, slopes for wheelchairs and grab-bars in toilets and baths.

The three new penal facilities will offer healthy meals and may also have specialists in nursing and rehabilitation on staff, a Justice Ministry official said on Friday.

The number of prison inmates aged over 60 rose to 8,700 in 2006 from 3,500 in 1997. Those with disabilities are currently spread around the country, making it difficult for wardens to deal with them, the ministry said.

The three new penal facilities will each accommodate about 360 people and total building costs are estimated at 8.3 billion yen. The ministry hopes to have them up and running by the end of the year.

Though the new prisons are being referred to as barrier-free, they will maintain the usual restrictions.

"Of course barrier-free does not mean prisoners will be able to go outside," said an official at the Justice Ministry. "We just want to help inmates with disabilities to move around like the able-bodied."

The graying of the prison population reflects a more general trend. In 2005, 20 percent of Japan's population was aged 65 years or above and the percentage is expected to rise rapidly.

A National Police Agency report in 2006 showed that people aged 65 and over accounted for more than 10 percent of those arrested or taken into custody for crimes other than traffic violations in 2005, compared with 2.2 percent in 1990.

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