Volunteer Probation Officer Shortage: Devise Ways to Prevent Rehabilitation Support System from Tapering off

There is a serious shortage of people willing to be volunteer probation officers who support the rehabilitation of individuals such as those released from prison on parole or juvenile delinquents. The current situation in which the system relies on charitable persons in local communities must be reviewed to prevent the support system from tapering off.

In cooperation with the Justice Ministry’s probation officers, volunteer probation officers conduct interviews with persons released from prison, juvenile correctional facilities and other institutions, and they provide these individuals with advice on daily life and work. The aim is to help these individuals reintegrate into society and prevent recidivism.

Although volunteer probation officers are non-regular national civil servants commissioned by the justice minister, they are in reality unpaid private volunteers. Currently, about 47,000 people nationwide, including self-employed persons, homemakers and company employees, are working as such volunteers.

In recent years, their population has been aging, with volunteer probation officers 70 and older accounting for nearly 40% of the total. Since individuals 78 and older cannot be reappointed, a large number of people are expected to retire in the future. If this trend continues, it might become difficult to maintain the system. Securing such volunteers is a pressing issue.

Volunteer probation officers originated from charitable persons in the Meiji era (1868-1912) who provided support to individuals released from prison, and the system is based on the spirit of social service. As a result, it is common for active volunteer probation officers to recruit suitable personnel in their community.

However, it is reportedly not uncommon for them to be turned down for reasons such as being busy or that they do not gain the understanding of their families. Interviews with individuals released from prison and other facilities are often conducted at the home of the volunteer probation officers to convey the warmth of a household, but some of them find this burdensome.

The system should be changed to be more in line with the times and reduce the burden on such volunteers.

The forms and factors of crime, such as drug- and cyber-related incidents, are becoming more diverse. Volunteer probation officers are increasingly required to have expertise, so it is important to recruit people from a wide range of fields, including civil servants, social welfare experts and business executives.

One idea would be to open the doors widely to people with enthusiasm and ability by using an open recruitment system for the position.

The shortage of volunteer probation officers is partly due to the increase in the number of elderly people who continue to work as companies extend the retirement age and take other steps. Some people might want to postpone working as volunteer probation officers until after retirement because balancing work and the duties of the role might be difficult. However, they might face the age limit for that position, as new recruits should be 66 and younger in principle. Such a restriction should be relaxed.

An expert panel at the ministry has begun discussing the ideal volunteer probation officer system. Those working in this position are given funds that cover only the actual costs of their activities, such as transportation expenses. The hope is that the panel will consider improving their treatment, such as reviewing the unpaid system and expanding the types of reimbursable expenses.

Parolees who receive support from ministry probation officers and volunteer probation officers are less likely to commit another crime than individuals who are released from prison and other facilities upon the expiration of their terms. It is hoped that a sustainable system will be pursued to support their recovery.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 20, 2023)