A Justice Ministry panel discussing ways to improve the probation system proposed Tuesday that the number of parole officers be at least doubled to better supervise parolees.

The panel was set up in July 2005 in response to a series of serious crimes committed by people who were either on parole or had just completed probation, including the murder of an 11-month-old baby in Aichi Prefecture in February 2005.

The case exposed problems in the probation system’s ability to keep track of parolees.

Katsunao Ujiie, who was accused of fatally stabbing the baby at a supermarket in the city of Anjo, had just been released on parole. His whereabouts were unknown until the time of his arrest, triggering public concern over possible repeat offenses by parolees.

Ujiie disappeared shortly after entering a rehabilitation facility in Aichi Prefecture, but the staff did not search for him because they did not know where to contact his relatives.

The panel pointed out there are only about 650 officers monitoring some 60,000 parolees.

The panel faulted the government for relying too heavily on about 49,000 volunteer probation officers to make up for a personnel shortage.

“Being short of hands is a root cause of all the problems concerning the probation system,” Daizo Nozawa, a former justice minister who heads the panel, told reporters after handing the proposal to Justice Minister Seiken Sugiura.

According to the ministry, about 1,800 parolees were unaccounted for at the end of March.

Increasing the number of parole officers would allow them to have regular contact with parolees and keep them from disappearing.

The panel also touched on the fact that 40 percent of those released commit crimes while on probation. After completing probation, people who are unable to land jobs are five times more likely to become repeat offenders, the panel said, adding the government should help parolees find work.

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