Criminal cases in Japan hit postwar low in 2021

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Justice Ministry

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — Criminal offenses recognized by police in Japan in 2021 decreased 7.5 % from the previous year to hit a post-World War II low of 568,104, a Justice Ministry white paper showed Tuesday.

The total number of Penal Code offenses fell for the 19th straight year after peaking in 2002, according to the White Paper on Crime 2022. By contrast, cybercrime and child abuse cases continued to increase.

The drop in recognized criminal cases mainly reflected a decrease in cases of theft, which account for nearly 70 % of the overall Penal Code offenses. “Cases of bicycle theft, car break-in and car component theft dropped sharply,” a ministry official said.

Meanwhile, the rate of reoffending, or the proportion of repeat offenders among all people against whom law-enforcement authorities took action for Penal Code violations remained high, at 48.6 %, down only 0.5 percentage point from 2020.

In 2021, the number of cybercrime incidents surged 23.6 % to 12,209, and that of child abuse cases grew 1.9 % to 2,174. Cybercrime cases have been on an uptrend since 2003, while child abuse cases have been rising sharply since 2014.

The latest white paper includes a section featuring crime associated with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In 2020 and 2021, authorities took action against a total of 2,907 cases in which economic measures established newly to cushion the impacts of the pandemic were abused. Of the total, 2,578, or nearly 90 %, were fraud cases involving a subsidy program for small firms and sole proprietors hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis.

Criminal offenses in April and May 2020, when the government’s first COVID-19 state of emergency was in place, plunged 23.9 % and 32.1 %, respectively, year on year.

On the other hand, the number of juvenile offenders against whom action was taken almost leveled off in both months. As a reason, the white paper said that there were possibly “circumstances unique to juveniles,” noting that opportunities for juveniles to commit acts of delinquency may have increased as a result of emergency school closures due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The ministry also released a white paper on the promotion of recidivism prevention measures. The report showed that the proportion of former inmates who were imprisoned within two years of being released came to 15.1 % in 2020, down for the sixth consecutive year.