In view of recent crime trends, measures to prevent the repetition of crimes have become an issue. What especially needs to be addressed is how to prevent the same people from repeating sex crimes. In November, the public was alarmed by the kidnapping and murder of a 7-year-old girl in the city of Nara.
The suspect in the case, Kaoru Kobayashi, 36, was found to have had prior sex-crime convictions. After graduating from high school, he had been given a suspended sentence for committing an indecent sexual assault on a girl. Later he was convicted of a similar crime and served a prison term.
During a trial hearing in the Nara case, he was asked whether he had resolved, when he was released from prison, not to repeat the crime for which he had been convicted. The man replied, “At that time, I did not think so.”
In response to public apprehension, the Justice Ministry and the National Police Agency on June 1 began a surveillance scheme under which the ministry notifies the police agency shortly before a person convicted of a sex crime against children younger than 13 years old is released from prison.
Specifically, the ministry lets the agency know the date of the ex-convict’s release from prison and his or her planned residence one month before the release date. Precinct police officers will verify that the person actually lives at the address. If the person is not found there, police nationwide will be alerted to locate the person.
In September, the Justice Ministry and police authorities will expand the program by sharing information on the release dates and expected abodes of ex-convicts who have finished serving time for one or more of some 20 serious crimes, including murder, burglary and drug-related offenses.
Sex crime recidivism is still making headlines. In February, a man on probation after being released from prison killed an infant girl in a supermarket in Aichi Prefecture.
In May, a man who had moved from Aomori Prefecture to Tokyo after receiving a suspended sentence for assaulting a woman was arrested on suspicion of confining a girl for three months to satisfy a sadistic desire.
People who have been released on parole or who have received suspended sentences must be accepted into society, and their rights must be protected. But the Nara case has roused the fear that a person who has committed a sex crime has an uncontrollable tendency to repeat the crime. In fact, the suspect in the Nara case has essentially told investigators that it is in his nature to commit sex crimes.
The two other cases also have shed light on weak points of the traditional probation system. In the confinement case, probation officers made communication mistakes, and the residence of the man was temporarily unknown. The crime occurred in the meantime.
Another report points out other flaws: While about 70,000 people are on probation, the residences of about 1,400 of them are not known. Across the country, only about 630 official probation officers are assigned to the Justice Ministry — clearly not adequate — with about 50,000 voluntary, nonpaid probation officers. The number of people who volunteer to serve as nonpaid probation officers is declining as the average age of these officers rises. The number of these volunteers is already less than the authorized complement of 52,000.
With the new surveillance scheme going into effect, police will naturally play a large role that could put them in delicate situations. On one hand, police must be effective in preventing repeats of crimes. At the same time, they must pay utmost attention to their actions so that an ex-convict is not hampered from returning to a normal life with his privacy respected. The probation system also needs improvement.
It goes without saying that the new surveillance system is not omnipotent. Every possible means must be deployed to prevent the repetition of crimes in general. Correctional education and psychological care will become all the more important.
On May 18, the Diet enacted a new law to improve the treatment of inmates and to help prevent recidivism, as a full-scale revision to the 1908 Prison Law. It is hoped that the new law, which will go into effect within a year of its promulgation, will give impetus to strengthening correctional education.
In carrying out correctional education under the new law, each individual inmate’s characteristics, including his life history and environment, will be taken into consideration. A team in the Justice Ministry is now working out a program to educate those who have committed sex crimes.
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