What’s behind decreasing juvenile delinquency and increasing elderly crime in Japan?

Prof Koichi Hamai1

1Ryukoku University, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, Japan

The number of offenders arrested by the police in Japan has been generally decreasing since the 1960s. The most obvious explanation lies in demographic change. The number of offences has been declining in general in accordance with a declining birthrate. However, the number of juvenile offenders between 10 and 19 has decreased much more than it can be explained by a declining birthrate. The number decreased from 154,793 in 1990 to 27,301 in 2017, an 82.4% reduction. While until 1998, more than half of offences were committed by juvenile offenders, it was only 12.7% in 2017.

On the other hand, it is inevitable, given demographic changes and economic pressure, that elderly people are now starting to contribute a greater proportion of offenders. In 1990, the proportion of the offenders aged 65 or over was only 2.2%, but by 2017, it had swelled tenfold, to 21.5%. The number increased from 6,344 to 46,264. In 2017 more than 11.8% of new inmates were above 65 years of age (1.5% in 1990). Prisons in Japan are being used to make up for the lack of social welfare provision and have become the ‘last safety net’ for the elderly.

It could be argued that smartphones affect social life differently between juveniles and elderly. Smartphones make juveniles connect with more people in cyberspace, and make their social life easier. Smartphones make the elderly, who cannot catch up with the technology, connect with less people and make their social life difficult and make them isolated socially.


Koichi Hamai had worked in the area of the offenders’ rehabilitation in the Ministry of Justice until 2003. He was an editor of the White Paper on Crime between 1995 and 1999. His research focus is in crime & criminal justice statistics, and the rehabilitation of offenders. He has been an Executive Board Member since 2003 and was the editor in chief of the Japanese Journal of Sociological Criminology between 2005 and 2011. He currently holds a position as professor of the Faculty of Law and the director of the Corrections and Rehabilitation Center at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, Japan.


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