• Kyodo

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For Shizuka Tobe, 68, Arakawa Ryo (Arakawa Dorm), a private-run facility supporting ex-convicts, is a place that accepts her for who she is and understands her.

“At first, (staff) were harsh and scary, but they became people with whom I could talk about anything,” said Tobe, who asked to use a fictitious name. “I need that kind of people.”

Arakawa Ryo and similar facilities offer accommodations, meals and support in finding jobs for ex-convicts who don’t have a place to go after they leave prison. Most leave the facility after several months when they find a job. But some continue to stop by for advice, or simply to chat.

That’s the case with Tobe, who visits Arakawa Ryo once a month to talk with Junko Fukuda, the head of the facility.

Tobe, who came to Tokyo from Fukushima Prefecture at the age of 20, had lived with an older man for more than 20 years until he disappeared after going to work.

Because she couldn’t pay the rent, she had to leave her apartment. She thought of going to the ward office for help but decided against it because she didn’t want to answer questions about her past.

Eventually, Tobe became homeless, stealing wallets from drunks at train stations. She was arrested, convicted and received a suspended sentence, and ended up at Arakawa Ryo.

Vowing never go back to a life of crime, Tobe worked at a wet wipe factory for five months, saving up ¥300,000. After she left Arakawa Ryo, she found another job, an apartment and a new life. She was 63 by then.

Though she now has a few friends to chat with, she feels they can’t completely understand what she went through. That’s why she still goes to Arakawa Ryo.

According to Fukuda of Arakawa Ryo, many feel reluctant to talk about their criminal record, while others don’t seek advice, perhaps because of mental or other problems.

After ex-convicts leave the facility, about 30 percent make efforts to rent an apartment and live on their own. Fukuda started helping such people to find jobs.

“When they leave the facility, I always tell them to visit us sometime,” she said.

Although a growing number of facilities like Arakawa Ryo offer long-term support for ex-convicts, the number of people who want to enter them are also on the rise. There are currently 103 such facilities nationwide run by private entities. The Justice Ministry has sought a budget boost for the next fiscal year to offer more subsidies so they can hire more staff.

“Those with disabilities and the elderly tend to lack a place to go (after they get out of prison), leading them to return to a life of crime,” said a senior Justice Ministry official. “If the facilities can offer a place for them, it will be an effective measure to prevent repeat offenders.”

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