Help former prisoners fully rejoin society to cut rates of recidivism

People reoffending after being released from prison is an ongoing problem. The central and local governments need to proceed with efforts to help former prisoners who have returned to society become self-reliant.

The Justice Ministry has released the 2021 edition of its White Paper on Crime. Of the 20,000 people released in 2019, about 3,000, or 15%, committed crimes again within two years and returned to prison.

Among former prisoners, 38% are back in jail within five years, but the reincarceration rate rises to almost half within 10 years, with 45% returning to prison.

Repeated cases of theft and fraud are conspicuous among reoffenders. It seems that many of them are unable to find regular jobs after returning to society and have money problems, driving them to commit crimes.

In recent years, the number of first-time offenders has decreased significantly. In order to cut crime, it has become important to prevent recidivism among former prisoners. A particular challenge is the rehabilitation of people who have been released after completing their prison sentences in full.

Among people who are released on parole with expectations they will get their lives back on track, 10% are reincarcerated within two years. In contrast, among people released after completing a full sentence, the rate is twice as high at 20%.

Unlike those who are released on parole, those who are released after serving their sentences in full do not receive continuous guidance and supervision by probation officers and others after their release, which can make it difficult for them to make a living and find employment.

Many former offenders who served full sentences were not paroled because they did not have relatives to lean on and could not find somewhere to live.

Without accommodation or work, and with nobody to consult, the risk of them becoming desperate and reoffending is sure to increase.

There are more than 24,000 companies registered as “cooperating employers” that are willing to hire former prisoners. However, only about 1,000 of the companies are actually hiring such individuals. The worsening business performance of companies due to the coronavirus crisis may also have cast a shadow on the situation.

In Iwate Prefecture, a social welfare corporation commissioned by the prefectural government is carrying out a project to support people who have been released from prison after completing full terms. The staffers in charge of the project interview elderly inmates to help them secure accommodation and welfare services after their release.

Also, a bar association has started a program to introduce job opportunities and support various procedures for released prisoners. It is very significant that professionals are taking steps to offer support to prevent former prisoners from becoming isolated.

In the case of crimes involving drug use, where it can be difficult for offenders to recover on their own, it is also important for the central and local governments to work with medical institutions and private organizations to reach out to former prisoners.

For people released from prison to become self-reliant, they need seamless support from the time they are inside until after they are released. Efforts must be accelerated to create a society without recidivism.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 22, 2022.