Murder of Volunteer Probation Officer: Find Ways to Ensure Safety of Those Who Support Rehabilitation

This is a situation that shakes the foundation of the probation system, which supports the rehabilitation of people who have committed crimes and juvenile delinquents into society. Measures must be taken urgently to ensure the safety of volunteer probation officers.

Hiroshi Shinjo, a volunteer probation officer in Otsu, was found to have been murdered in his house, and the police arrested Kohei Iitsuka, who is unemployed and on probation, on suspicion of murder. Shinjo served as a volunteer probation officer for Iitsuka.

Iitsuka was serving a suspended sentence for robbing a convenience store. Iitsuka is reportedly suspected of attacking Shinjo during an interview with him.

Messages that are believed to have been posted by Iitsuka on X (formerly Twitter) included one that said “Probation is like … It doesn’t protect at all.” The police are investigating the case as they suspect it is possible that Iitsuka could prompt complaints about the probation system.

If a volunteer probation officer, who supports the rehabilitation of criminal offenders, was killed during the course of their activities, it is extremely shocking and tragic. Finding out what happened and clarifying the motive in detail is essential.

There are about 46,000 volunteer probation officers nationwide. In cooperation with the Justice Ministry’s probational officers, the volunteers interview people on probation or parole and provide counseling on their daily life and employment. Although volunteer probation officers are part-time national civil servants commissioned by the justice minister, they are in effect unpaid volunteers.

There was one case in which a volunteer probation officer who had taken charge of a juvenile delinquent had their house set on fire by that person, among other incidents. However, it is said that there has never been a case in which a volunteer probation officer was killed by a person on probation. Measures must be taken to prevent a recurrence so that volunteer probation officers can work with peace of mind.

In many cases, interviews are conducted at the house of volunteer probation officers to allow people who committed crimes to feel the warm atmosphere of a home. Now that an incident like this has occurred, it is advisable that facilities, including local rehabilitation support centers and community centers, be made more available as interview sites.

When volunteer probation officers feel uneasy interviewing those under their supervision, it is also important that ways are devised to support the situation such as by preparing more than one officer for the interview.

Volunteer probation officers are aging rapidly, and there is a serious shortage of those who want to take on the role. For that reason, the ministry is in the midst of promoting recruitment and a review of their working conditions. There are concerns that the incident may accelerate the shortage of such potential volunteers.

It is hoped that efforts will be made to dispel concerns such as by appointing former police officers and legal professionals who have dealt with criminals, as well as by establishing a system to support volunteer probation officers.

Volunteer probation officers originated in the Meiji era (1868-1912) when charitable people provided support to individuals released from prison, and the system is based on the spirit of social service. In recent years, however, local communities have changed, and there are limits to relying on charitable persons.

It is vital to change the system to one that is more in tune with the times. The problems faced by people on probation, such as a dependence on drugs, are becoming more complicated, and it is essential to improve training sessions for volunteer probation officers.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 11, 2024)