Improve conditions for volunteer probation officers to draw recruits

A volunteer probation officer plays a major role in supporting the rehabilitation of a person who has committed a crime. Efforts must be made to find and secure human resources for this role from a wide range of fields to curb a decline in their numbers.

There are about 46,000 such probation officers nationwide. They regularly meet with parolees released from prison and juvenile delinquents on probation to provide consultation on matters such as their livelihood and employment. These officers are appointed by the justice minister as part-time national public servants, but in fact, they are private citizens who are not paid for their services.

In recent years, the officers as a whole are aging, with their average age exceeding 65. The number who will retire will grow considerably because, as notified by the Justice Ministry, in principle they can no longer serve after turning 78. As the number of retirees continues to surpass that of newly appointed officers, securing people who can take on this role must be regarded as an urgent task.

Volunteer probation officers often find successors through personal connections. Recently, there have been many cases in which those recruited turn down the offer, giving reasons such as “I’m busy” or “my family won’t understand.”

Community ties are weakening. To that end, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has recommended that the Justice Ministry help secure human resources, citing concerns over the continuation of these activities if nothing is done. Measures include calling for councils in each area of the nation to gather information on suitable candidates.

The Justice Ministry, in cooperation with prefectural and municipal governments, should establish a system that will enable it to approach retired public servants, social welfare experts and corporate managers among others from a wide range of fields. It is also necessary to improve the internship system for participants to experience volunteer probation officers’ activities.

It is difficult to maintain the system by relying only on the goodwill of volunteers. It is also worth considering paying them for their services or expanding reimbursements for necessary expenses.

Reducing the burden of the job is also important. Interviews often take place at the home of the volunteer probation officer, but more are finding it difficult to secure a room because their homes are too small for the purpose. Some officers also feel a burden of conducting interviews at home.

Some Offenders Rehabilitation Support Centers, which are the bases for probation officers’ activities in each district, are not available at night or on weekends and holidays. The location and opening hours of the facilities should be reviewed.

In lay judge trials, which attach importance to the prevention of recidivism, there have been more rulings in which defendants are given probation for the purpose of rehabilitating them. However, the issues faced by them are becoming more complex such as dealing with drug addiction. It is essential to enhance training programs for those serving as volunteer probation officers.

Probation officers in principle must submit reports by post, and many write these by hand. This is because of concerns over possible data breaches, but there is strong demand to improve this time-consuming practice.

The Justice Ministry is said to be developing a system that allows volunteer probation officers to compile and submit reports on personal computers. Efforts must be accelerated to improve the environment to fit the times.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 5, 2021.