The number of elderly people committing crimes has skyrocketed in Japan. A recent white paper on crime finds that those aged 65 or over who became the subject of a criminal investigation hit 48,637 in 2011, accounting for some 16 percent of all those investigated — the highest percentage since 1986 when the relevant statistics were first taken. That absolute number is more than six times as many as 20 years ago.

These figures paint a different picture of the elderly than the one of the stereotypical, smiling grandparent that most people have. The reasons for the increase in elderly crime should be understood and action should be taken to stem this rising problem.

The main reason for the increase is not simply that Japan’s population is aging. The number of Japanese aged 65 or over stood at 30 million as of Oct. 1, 2011, or around 23 percent of the 128 million total population.

However, crime for the entire population has been falling by about 5.8 percent per year. The percentage of people at least 65 years old is increasing quickly, but the increase in elderly crime is growing even faster.

Crimes by the elderly have also become increasingly violent, according to the National Police Agency. While 70 percent of the crimes committed by the elderly involved shoplifting or theft, there were also more assault-related crimes than ever before. The white paper noted 50 times more assaults in 2011 than in 1992 and 8.7 times more bodily injury cases. The National Police Agency says that homicides committed by the elderly have increased even though the overall murder rate has declined.

The reasons for these increases are many, but they primarily stem from bad economic conditions. Also, the elderly often may need or want attention from society as more and more of them live alone in their later years.

Depression among the elderly continues to be a problem, and suicide rates remain high. Those social, situational and psychological factors establish the preconditions for crime.

It is important to understand that most of the crimes committed by the elderly are influenced by stress and anxiety, but that is not to say that the elderly should be forgiven when serious crimes are committed. Crimes involve victims. As with any criminal, the elderly have the right to a fair legal process, equal treatment and, when found guilty, must be punished.

Treating elderly criminals appropriately will continue to place an added burden on the police and judiciary. Examining the underlying causes for the increase will take time, but the process should be started now.

Without a better understanding of the causes, the increase in elderly crime is likely to continue at high levels since the number of those aged 65 or older in Japan will only keep on rising in the years to come.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.