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Why some Japanese pensioners want to go to jail (bbc.co.uk)
132 points by pmoriarty 17 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 110 comments

The 1904 O. Henry short story "The Cop and the Anthem"[1][2] tells of a homeless New York City man who commits small crimes, preferring arest and jail to charity handouts.

"But to one of Soapy's proud spirit the gifts of charity are encumbered. If not in coin you must pay in humiliation of spirit for every benefit received at the hands of philanthropy. As Caesar had his Brutus, every bed of charity must have its toll of a bath, every loaf of bread its compensation of a private and personal inquisition. Wherefore it is better to be a guest of the law, which though conducted by rules, does not meddle unduly with a gentleman's private affairs."

Soapy's many attempts fail, but the story ends with a typical O. Henry twist. No spoiler here.

The story was filmed in 1952, one of five stories in "O. Henry's Full House." Charles Laughton played the vagrant. He briefly meets Marilyn Monroe. Watch this segment on YouTube[3] or enjoy the entire film.

[1] https://americanliterature.com/author/o-henry/short-story/th...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cop_and_the_Anthem

[3] https://youtu.be/temSJCZwUlU

This is a common theme especially in any country with cold winters. People will commit low level crimes that will ensure just enough prison time to survive the winter when they're either homeless or their home offers little o no guarantee they will survive a very cold night (no money for heating).

Sometimes the prison system is bad enough that most people wouldn't resort to this unless it's a life and death situation. So probably nothing of principle (not wanting to take pity money) or not just as a method to save some more money for a few years.

Saw this in Alaska when I lived there.

> Japan is in the grip of an elderly crime wave - the proportion of crimes committed by people over the age of 65 has been steadily increasing for 20 years

Journalist does not get stats. Its increasing in absolute numbers because the population over 65 is exploding as baby boomers come in that range. In relative proportion its not increasing at all.

Seems like the article caters for it well enough. In relative proportion it's increasing:

"In 1997 this age group accounted for about one in 20 convictions but 20 years later the figure had grown to more than one in five - a rate that far outstrips the growth of the over-65s as a proportion of the population"

You missed the next sentence:

> nd like Toshio, many of these elderly lawbreakers are repeat offenders. Of the 2,500 over-65s convicted in 2016, more than a third had more than five previous convictions.

Those are not unique offenders. Somebody who commits multiple infractions is counted several times.

Yes, some of the explanation is an increased population, but it's also clear they're committing more crime than they did.

The graph in the article (1990-2016) looks like the proportion of offences committed by pensioners has roughly risen from 3% to 20% (6.6x increase, maybe 5x if it's 4% to 20%), yet the proportion of over 65s (1990-2016) in Japan has risen from 11.9% to 26.6% (a 2.2x increase)[2].

The source of the BBC graph is in Japanese[3], so I can't get exact figures for the crime and papers I found that did have exact figures only went back as far as 2005.

[1] https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/B06F/production/...

[2] https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.65UP.TO.ZS?locat...

[3] http://www.moj.go.jp/housouken/houso_2008_index.html

Yes, but this is an uncorrelated effect.

In relative proportion its not increasing at all.

The graph/data from the Japanese Justice Ministry presented in the article strongly disagrees with you.

Nope it does not. It calculates the number of offenses per age group and it's perfectly NORMAL the percentage increases as the percentage of older people increases as well:


What you need to prove me I am completely wrong is a subset of 65 years old and older over time, as a single segment, and show me that in that segment there is large increase in percentage. That's not at all what the graphs shows.

You could have looked up that data yourself to prove the article wrong and shared it rather than just repeatedly commenting that the article sucks. From [1] and [2] the percentage of the population 65+ increased from 15.7% in 1997 to an estimated 28% in 2017. From the article, "In 1997 this age group accounted for about one in 20 convictions but 20 years later the figure had grown to more than one in five".

So percentage of population roughly doubled, but in the same time the percentage of convictions quadrupled.

[1] http://www.stat.go.jp/english/data/nenkan/pdf/yhyou02.pdf

[2] http://www.ipss.go.jp/site-ad/index_english/esuikei/ppfj2012...

convictions != unique people convicted. As I have already pointed out, offenders commit multiple crimes and therefore register as several convictions. So you can't just look at percentage of infractions and assume this is representative of unique people committing crimes.

> than just repeatedly commenting that the article sucks

The article sucks because it fails to account for several ways to explain the data and jumps right at a conclusion that's pushed by a social narrative.

And once again rather than spending two minutes to find the data and report it here, you instead chose to act smug about how much smarter you are than the article author. Please stop doing that. Provide insight instead of just criticism. Right from a linked chart in the article [1], you can see that the total number of persons over 65 imprisoned has quadrupled from roughly 600 in 1997 to 2500 in 2016. Repeat convictions is a side statistic that has little bearing on the total numbers here.

[1] http://hakusyo1.moj.go.jp/en/66/image/image/h004008002001e.j...

My mistake. You're right, I'm wrong.

No problem. Happens to all of us at some point.

Actually, Japan crime rate is high in elderly population. It use to be relatively rare, but now it's relatively high.

Again this article shows absolutely no evidence of this. None of the graphs support this hypothesis (since they can be explained in other ways). See my other comments.

My parents are set to turn 70 next year and I worry so much about their wellbeing when they get older. My dad, in particular, is a generally happy person, but doesn't have many friends. I worry that if my mom passes before him, he's going to have a rough time. I feel guilty because I'm one of those children described in the article who moved to another city to chase economic + social activity.

We've all done it, and often had to, which is the root of the problem.

When I was under 10, both sets of grandparents and four of five aunts and uncles were within 10 miles, most under 3. Now we're all over the place and a visit isn't a regular frequent thing but a major, rarer, trip.

As I'm in my mid fifties some of the future looks rather bleak. Add longer life expectancy after retirement and for most, better mental and physical health, and you end up with many more years to contemplate your loneliness.

I saw one story a few years back of a retirement home that combined a nursery. Which turned out to be a huge boost for both the kid's development, parents, and the old folks. Every day they would have joint activities. Sounded a great idea that we need far more of, rather than occasional novelty worth reporting.

As I read this, I was envisioning a plant nursery, which I thought was a genius idea. Give the old people something simple to do like take care of plants! I guess children would work too. :)

Last I'd heard, American labour mobility had been declining for decades. In 2011, the percentage of US residents who moved to a different state for work was half the rate from 1991 [1]. Though, I'd be curious to see what the data looks like beyond those dates.

[1]: https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2012/07/07/m...

I'd be interested in similar for the UK, but can't quickly turn up a similar graph or stats for here. I'm now curious of the picture since the war, as the picture for families seems to have changed quite significantly.


This podcast episode is all about getting rid of nursing homes and it sort of talks about the way it should be. Communal, and a split of ages.

Not all of us have done it. I'm staying in the Midwest as a software engineer so I can be near my parents. I might not make 300k but I'm doing well and I see my family once a week at least.

It just depends what your priorities are. Cats in the cradle.

If I lived closer to my parents, I could totally forget about ever dating again. Sorry, a lifetime of loneliness isn't worth that.

Total non sequitur but I think there is an opportunity for old folks homes with organized lan/online gaming. Probably still 15-30 years out until games start entering retirement communities in droves but maybe with the right promotion it could get started earlier?

You already see this in many online games. There are over 60 only clans on steam when I looked years ago. Its a great way to 'socialize' when you arent very mobile.

My grandmother, who recently passed at 103, used to have "bowling" night on the Wii with her friends at an adult community home (when she was in her 90's). The right games for the right people.

i don't think it's that far, if you were 25-30yo gamer in middle of 90s, you would be now 50-55yo, 10-15 years from being 65-70 which doesn't sound like that low age to move to retirement home

From the article it looks like a much better and cheaper solution is to build retirement homes for the elderly. Is it feasible to write to one's political representative in Japan?

>Is it feasible to write to one's political representative in Japan?

Because that ever achieved anything in the US, except letting off steam?

Japan is decidedly not the United States. In some European countries like Germany writing to one's representative damn works, and works well; in Switzerland the situation is even better, the people decide directly and as the consequence the government is afraid of the people, which is as it should be.

Looking at everything through the lens of how things are in the United States is dimwitted, to put it very considerately and politely.

A relative who is a court interpreter assures me we have exactly the same problem in the UK. The popular approach with her clients here is to smash a car window, then turn themselves in.

With temperatures below zero, right now is a particularly busy time.

I've seen this happen in the midwest US too.

Given the choice between jail, being outside, or maybe a shelter if you live around a bigger city, I know what i would pick for the winter.

1) human contact

2) room and board

When pensioners or just any adult prefers jail to freedom, it makes you think we failed something as a society.

I kinda agree but it also depends on the jail. I imagine Japanese jails are nice, esp for small crimes.

I’ve seen Nordik jails in a documentary and I’d totally pick that over many other places to live, if I was not able to afford living.

It really doesn't depend on the jail, at all. Having to be incarcerated to have a good livelihood is unforgivably disgusting.

Some people seek a different kind of freedom, that that which is taken away by some jails, or maybe they don't seek freedom at all, rather comfort. Which is very sad and normal.

I sometimes think that I'd find it therapeutic to stay in a fitting prison. Some maybe relevant characteristics of mine are that I often seek isolation, and my creative activities are fully isolated of any direct social contact.

It's not just about being able to afford basic living conditions.

If these people can't get enough human contact, we failed them. There's no reason we shouldn't be able to create meaningful interactions for the elderly.

There's no reason whatsoever they should be isolated.

"If these people can't get enough human contact, we failed them."

These are adults, not children. Let's take responsibility for taking care of ourselves. There is no moral basis for blaming others if we individually fail at that (as long as others haven't done anything against us), as you imply.

I also think we need more critique on gratuitous blaming/shaming. It does no good to allow abusive attitude like this, even when's addressed towards a diffuse target as the society at large.

> I imagine Japanese jails are nice, esp for small crimes

I did some Googling of this around the time we were in Lanta, and they sounded terrible

Stalker ...

"When pensioners or just any adult prefers jail to freedom, it makes you think we failed something as a society."

I don't see any reason to take people like myself accountable for the current state of society I inherited from the now pensioner generation, so let me rephrase the last part: "it makes you think they failed something as a society."

Why shouldn’t we hold ourselves responsible for the current state of society?

What we inherited is done, we can’t change that any more. But we can certainly make tomorrow a little bit better than yesterday.

I consider that I'll be liable to this kind of judgement after most of my potential and actions are in past's domain. For now we may be responsible for where we're taking the current state further on but not so much for what we have. What we have now is for the most part inherited, so we should thank the past generations for it, especially so when it's about casting blame for something affecting the said past generations, obviously!

You'd think for the cost of actually jailing one of them for two years, they could give out a better pension and create programs for the elderly, and cover more for the same price.

I've imagined a world where prisons and homeless shelters look almost identical, save the prisons don't allow you to leave.

Look into prisons in Denmark - far closer to hostels or even universities halls of residence. So much so that they encourage you people to live in them too.

this seems more humanitarian, but doesn't it reduce the disincentive to commit another crime, especially for people from unstable or low-income backgrounds where the prison may be more pleasant than home? Most prisons around the world seem to be far too inhumane but I can't help but wonder if you can go too far in the other direction.

Please watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYj_FPT90cM (it's about Norway, which has very humanitarian prisons)

The short version is that a naive comparison shows that recidivism in Norway is much lower than in the US, a more thorough comparison shows that recidivism is actually not so different. But either way, making prisons worse doesn't actually help fighting crime. So the decision whether prisoners should be treated humanely or not is more about ideology than effectiveness.

And personally I think humans should be treated humanely, no matter what they did.

I think you may have missed my point. What I'm saying is, between a horrible prison and the Ritz, what's the optimum point so as to treat prisoners as humanely as possible without becoming an actively inviting environment? It's only logical to balance the moral responsibility to preserve human dignity with the risk of creating perverse incentives.

> It's only logical to balance the moral responsibility to preserve human dignity

I don't know, the American prison system doesn't seem to consider that a high importance. The problem in Japan seems to be that the not-even-actually-nice prison system still trumps the conditions under which those pensioners apparently live.

If your prison system is not a complete nightmare and people seem to be intentionally getting themselves imprisoned the right solution isn't to make the prisons worse, it's to fix the social problems that are making people prefer going to prison (i.e. in this case: loneliness, societal neglect, poverty and shame).

> I don't know, the American prison system doesn't seem to consider that a high importance.

I'm not here to defend the American prison system - I'm talking more generally.

> f your prison system is not a complete nightmare and people seem to be intentionally getting themselves imprisoned the right solution isn't to make the prisons worse, it's to fix the social problems that are making people prefer going to prison (i.e. in this case: loneliness, societal neglect, poverty and shame).

Obviously that's the ideal, but it's literally impossible. How is the government (or whichever organisation) going to solve all its citizens' personal problems? If we lived in a world where all people's personal problems were taken care of, prisons would be barely needed.

> Obviously that's the ideal, but it's literally impossible. How is the government (or whichever organisation) going to solve all its citizens' personal problems?

If we are still talking about poverty, loneliness, etc, then the solution is to build old people's homes. As a lot of countries do, so it's clearly not impossible. The residents pay a percentage of their pension and/or fortune, if you're poor you pay little, of you're well off you pay more. But everyone can get a place to live.

The specific problem in Japan as described in the article is that the basic state pension is too low to live off. And with no alternatives you end up as Toshio. The retirement age is also very low in Japan, which doesn't help - you're supposed to live off your pension from you're 60 or even younger. That'll be several decades of very poor economy for a lot of old people.

I think a large part of the problem is that Japan is experiencing generational shrinkage. It doesn't matter which way you slice it, when people over the age of 65 make up 1/4 of the population and many need significant care it's going to be impossible to do so without redirecting a sizeable share of their economic output to elderly care. Taxes are just an indirection for directing labour towards social projects so they're not inherently able to overcome constraints like this.

> How is the government (or whichever organisation) going to solve all its citizens' personal problems?

Money ?

well if all the government needs is money and it can solve all its citizens' problems, that's great news because the government can print money. Someone should have tried this earlier.

Money is one of the issue pointed by this article... Maybe not print money, but we can get some with, let's say, fighting tax fraud ?

You can't leave. That's the disincentive.

you can leave minimum security prisons in many countries and basically go there just to do mandatory sleep

I mean, if you want to go back to prison you likely aren’t going to commit a violent crime (even if you did for your initial visit), so that’s a win.

“Is it surprising that the cellular prison, with its regular chronologies, forced labour, its authorities of surveillance and registration, its experts in normality, who continue and multiply the functions of the judge, should have become the modern instrument of penality? Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?” - Michel Foucault

Assisted suicide is a big trend in my country for old people who want to check out. But I know that in many countries that's not an option due to religious beliefs.

What is your country?

Netherlands. People actually feel safe when they have a contract that allows them to be terminated when they get Alzheimer's for example.

People want to live but on their own terms. Not spending 20 years in diapers tied to a bed or all alone wasting away with only a robot to talk to.

Logans Run: how does the Netherlands avoid subtle or overt pressure on the elderly that 'it is their time to go?'


I have seen doctors in the US all too often blame 'old age' for conditions that are preventable or can be significantly improved to forestall aging.

There is always social pressure, it comes with living in a society. And ofcourse old people don't want to be dicks and be a drain on society or make their children's lives miserable. In Logan's run those seniors went willingly after all.

When we were still ruled by nature there were never too many mouths to feed. For the first time in human history half of our citizens are going to be over 65 and there will be consequences.

There is a limit to what people can endure. When you're standing on the 10 story of a building with the floors above and below burning and the fires are starting to overcome the 10th, jumping looks like a better option than slowly burning alive. Crippling disease or mental health are as real a threat as being stuck in a burning building. It is bleak, and may be hard to understand if you haven't been there.

i see problem with societal pressure for these people to kill themselves, certainly useful for some, but for sure also pressure for many people who should still live

Religious belief? It's more like moral and constitutional basic human right issue.

Are you saying that it's a basic human right to choose whether or not to live, or that it's a right to not have a right to choose? The former would be a very weird statement.

I subscribe to former and I have no ides why you think its weird. The choice of continued concious existence is literally the only real natural right we have.

There's an issue of terminology here. What you describe is not a right, it's an obligation. If some action is a right, you can choose not to do it.

So you're saying that a human is obligated to live for the maximum span of time possible. Does it still not sound weird?

Rhetorics aside, the power to turn yourself off is very important. Taking away this power has been used throughout history as a means to intensify torture. For someone in suffering, the power to end your life can literaly be the difference between complete powerlessness and empowerment. I've been through a few bouts of depression and can confirm this first-hand.

> The choice of continued concious existence is literally the only real natural right we have.

We have several choices and we make them each second. A choice to respond to this comment or not, for example. And even in a tragic scenario where you can't make any choice about your body, you may still have many others - see Hawking for example.

Yes, that is a religious belief.

This sorta reminds me of the stories of homeless people committing minor crimes to get off the street during bad winter weather.

When I lived in Japan back in the 80s, doctor visits were basically free. They took all day though, partially because the elderly would go to the doctor to interact with other people, rather than for a real medical need, thus clogging up the system.

This seems so strange to me, do they not have cafes where strangers can socialize over a cheap cup of coffee or tea?

>do they not have cafes where strangers can socialize over a cheap cup of coffee or tea?

Surely they have. But you have to order something and there is a good change you won't meet anyone of your age. If you come to a free clinic - you don't pay anything and you are immediately surrounded by people of your age (if we are talking about eldery as in this case).

Shared suffering is also a good conversation starter for the elderly. Some waiting rooms turn into a kind of Four Yorkshiremen sketch quickly.

And yes, that's not good. The whole world hasn't quite come to terms yet with situation that we've got a whole lot of old people, neither with the healthy ones, nor the infirm ones. Given the sheer amount of both, there should be way more opportunities and organizations for them (not just the church and political parties).

But that's not a sexy topic for startup bros and the VCs that love them.

Its not in free clinics, its Day Care where old people go to in Japan to spend time with planned activities.

Well, I'm generalizing here. And in Russia, where I'm from, its in free (read as state) clinics. The point stays the same.

this is resolved in China in IKEA, coffee is cheap or even free and they have nice environment to hang out

OTOH even regular younger Chinese use IKEA showrooms literally as their living rooms, I can see appeal especially in hot weather

Well, you can find a place to spend your time without paying anything in many places.

In Russia we have "social welfare centers" where they provide elderly with different sorts of entertainment. (well, entertainment maybe not the best word. This like dance evenings).

it's the same now, clinic visits are very cheap but you will end up waiting for 1-2 old people (if you are lucky!)

1 or 2 old people? You must be kidding. In a normal sized city where most people live you have at least 10 people in the waiting line every single day of the week and saturday too. Clinics and hospitals and Japan are completely inadequate and doctors mostly spend just 5 mins per patient which is ridiculous.

I dunno, seems more likely the old people are there for a reason.

Anyway, I’ll take waiting a few minutes for free healthcare over paying for instant.

The only thing I’d like is for the quality to be a bit higher.

We talked about this a bit last year with a different article: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16603343

Just wait to see Central European countries in 15-20 years. Prisons are quite rough though, it’l rather impact suicide rates.

Care to expand a bit for us not familiar with the situation there?

Not the OP, but maybe I can give opinion. A lot of young (and often well educated) people are leaving to USA, Canada, Germany etc, taking their families with them too. For example, there are about 30K immigrants from Serbia to Germany each year. From Croatia to Germany it's about 50K per year. Significant number of them are doctors and nurses. Average salary (and consequently, pension) in most of central and eastern European countries is quite low, making nursing homes unaffordable. This, combined with the fact that a lot of children/relatives now live 1000+km away and that the prisons are, say, not well known for friendliness there makes situation quite dire for current and future pensioners there.

> Significant number of them are doctors and nurses.

I'm half-German, half-Croat. Our excuse of a health minister (Spahn) actually thinks that the solution for the utter lack of staff in the German health system is to bleed the Balkan totally dry... as if that hasn't been going on for decades!

All the people coming here to work in the health sector drop out after a couple of years due to horrible payment and labor conditions, thus leading to more recruiting in ever more remote countries, it's a vicious cycle. The obvious solution would be to massively increase pay to increase retention, but for unknown reasons no one wants to do this...

Retirement planning on $1200 SS: Go to jail for half of the time, plead guilty so no lawyer expenses, and when out, live on $2400 :)

Sad way, but it's a way of doing it. Can't blame the newer generation as they can barely manage for themselves. Add mental illness that starts in a lot of older people and professional care is needed.

that doesn't work in the US because you'll get charged court/jail fees that will wipe away any money you saved.

Only in certain circumstances can Social Security benefits be garnished.

Everything about this story is heartbreaking.

So can anyone shed any light on why they're jailing people for such low value items?

My guess is to send the "Just DON'T do it" message. If you get away with low value you might aim for the higher ones...

Because stealing a car and stealing a pen - is the same thing. A pen given to me by my father 20 years ago can be of a bigger value for me than a fucking Porsche.

I don't think personal value counts in the legal system otherwise people would claim everything was a priceless family item.

That's not my point.

But the things discussed were from a shop, and have prices attached.

And they aren't the same thing, you yourself admit that, to you the pen is more valuable than the car.

>And they aren't the same thing, you yourself admit that, to you the pen is more valuable than the car.

My point is that theft should be followed by a fierce punishment. Regardless of the market price.

In other news. It is cheaper to stay on a cruise ship than in a nursing home.


Seems like the lady in that story was telling a joke, as the services offered by a cruise ship wouldn't be comparable to an assisted-living facility, let alone a nursing home.

Not to ruin the joke, just, if she merely needed food delivered and chores done with someone to take her to the doctor, she could live in a normal residence and hire that help for much less. Assisted-living facilities would provide a step up, then nursing homes provide support a level beyond that.

She seems self-sufficient enough to not need a nursing home in the first place. Nursing homes aren't hotels. Does the cruise ship crew help her to shower? Get dressed? Brush her teeth? Are they able to deal with Alzheimer patients? I doubt they do.

That sounds like a wonderful environment for a person living with declining immunity.



In the future it may become cheaper to live on an intergalactic cruiser than in a nursing home

The cruise liner probably loses money if every customer is like that!

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