The state of criminal affairs

According to the National Police Agency’s 2009 white paper on crime, the police recognized 1,818,374 crimes, excluding traffic accidents, in 2008. The figure is 4.8 percent less than in 2007, and has fallen six years in a row.

A total of 36,153 people were killed or injured in those crimes, about 3,000 less than in 2007. The police recognized 1,297 cases of murder in 2008 — an 8.2 percent rise from the previous year and the first rise in five years — and identified or arrested suspects in 95.4 percent of those cases.

Overall public safety is improving, the white paper said, but crimes like theft may be on the rise due to economic hardship.

The number of people either identified as suspects or arrested in 2008 was 340,100. The white paper notes that of those arrested, about 140,000 (or 41.5 percent) had a history of previous arrests.

The white paper’s figures on recidivism are revealing. The NPA carried out follow-up studies of people who, in initial trials in Tokyo or Kanagawa Prefecture in 2004, were given suspended sentences for theft (691 people) or offences involving stimulant drugs (519 people). Of the first group, 19 percent of those put on probation reoffended and were convicted, compared with 23.9 percent of those freed without probation. Of the stimulant drug offenders, 27.8 percent of those put on probation reoffended and were convicted, compared with 24.4 percent of those freed without probation.

It is safe to assume that putting criminals under the watch and guidance of probation officers will help deter recidivism. Between 1962 and 1964, more than 20 percent of people given suspended sentences were put on probation. But the rate was 9.5 percent in 2003, and fell to 8.8 percent in 2006 and 2007.

There appears to be a shortage of voluntary probation officers. A Justice Ministry panel pointed out in June 2006 that although each year some 60,000 people were put on probation, there were less than 50,000 voluntary probation officers and only about 1,100 people working at probation offices. The government should implement policies to support and increase the number of voluntary probation officers.