Why do elderly Japanese want to go to prison?

I read an interesting comment by Art Cashin that bears considering.

Japan’s prison system is being driven to budgetary crisis by demographics, a welfare shortfall and a new, pernicious breed of villain: the recidivist retiree. And the silver-haired crooks, say academics, are desperate to be behind bars.

Crime figures show that about 35 per cent of shoplifting offenses are committed by people over 60. Within that age bracket, 40 per cent of repeat offenders have committed the same crime more than six times.

There is good reason, concludes a report, to suspect that the shoplifting crime wave in particular represents an attempt by those convicted to end up in prison — an institution that offers free food, accommodation and healthcare.

The mathematics of recidivism are gloomily compelling for the would-be convict. Even with a frugal diet and dirt-cheap accommodation, a single Japanese retiree with minimal savings has living costs more than 25 per cent higher than the meagre basic state pension of Y780,000 ($6,900) a year, according to a study on the economics of elderly crime by Michael Newman of Tokyo-based research house Custom Products Research.

Even the theft of a Y200 sandwich can earn a two-year prison sentence, say academics, at an Y8.4m cost to the state.  The geriatric crime wave is accelerating, and analysts note that the Japanese prison system — newly expanded and at about 70 per cent occupancy — is being prepared for decades of increases. Between 1991 and 2013, the latest year for which the Ministry of Justice publishes figures, the number of elderly inmates in jail for repeating the same offense six times has climbed 460 per cent.

If it weren’t so, so sad, it would be positively elegant. You are an elderly Japanese person who can’t get by. You are not aggressive so you want to commit a crime with no threat or hostility. So, you commit one of the most non-hostile crimes possible –shoplifting.  When the authorities insist you leave and return to poverty, your simple recourse it to repeat the same crime, may even in the same store.  Human adaptation is an absolute wonder to behold. Government planning, however, is prone to bring unintended consequences, usually of the worst order.

People adapt to incentives and the results are not necessarily what was anticipated.  It’s called the law of unintended consequences.

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