Alarmed by the number of elderly and mentally disabled people who repeatedly shoplift or walk out of restaurants without paying, regional prosecution offices are trying to help such offenders instead of sending them to court.
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office said it hired a part-time social welfare expert on Feb. 21 to help it build connections with welfare institutions and explore whether assisting people in need can reduce petty crime.
It will be the first such office in Japan to conduct a trial like this, but already some public prosecutors at the Tokyo office have been--at their own initiative--handing repeat offenders to welfare institutions.
In hiring a specialist, the office will join an ongoing drive by public prosecutors nationwide to prevent repeat offenses and promote social reintegration.
It hired a certified social worker to act as a go-between at alleged crime scenes and to recommend which approach to take, such as whether there is a need to summon additional specialists.
The individual will also act as an intermediary with outside organizations such as welfare and nursing facilities and will identify institutions with which to place elderly and mentally disabled offenders.
The Nagasaki District Public Prosecutors Office is currently at the forefront of efforts to create links with welfare institutions. It helps to intermediate between newly released prisoners and welfare institutions, and to do that it uses the regional lifestyle support centers set up nationwide by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
The Nagasaki office counts among its successes the case of a mentally disabled person who was placed at a facility run by a social welfare corporation in Unzen, Nagasaki Prefecture, and who later found a job at a regular company.
Tokyo prosecutors aim to build links with welfare institutions that function even in areas where this sort of supportive environment is lacking.
"If it goes well, it could become a model for other districts' public prosecutors offices to follow," said one senior official.
Figures in an annual white paper on crime show that around 70 percent of elderly offenders going to jail in 2011 were serving at least their second sentence, while around 15 percent of all inmates in 2007 were mentally disabled people who had previously served time.
It is thought that factors behind this include a lack of housing or work for newly released inmates, as well as unsuitable conditions in prison taking into account their disabilities.
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