3 yrs probation for a rock-star taking meth but 2 yrs jail for an retiree stealing a sandwich.


Aska, half of the famous Japanese rock duo Chage & Aska, has been charged with 3 years probation after being caught taking meth for the second time. Aska escaped a longer sentence. I wrote a three part series on crime in Japan earlier this year – broken down into Geriatric Jailbirds, the breakdown of the Nuclear Family and Fraud, Murder, Yakuza, Drugs and the Police.

Drugs in Japan are an interesting topic. Meth was originally synthesized from ephedrine in 1893 by a Japanese chemist Dr. Nagayoshi Nagai. 26 years later, a pharmacologist by the name of Akira Ogata managed to turn it into crystalline form i.e. crystal meth.

When World War II got under way Japanese soldiers (especially kamikaze pilots) were given crystal meth (branded Hiropon) which not only kept them ‘wired’ but reduced hunger. As the war ended, Japan was left with excess supplies of Hiropon. Food supplies were few and returning soldiers added to the shortage. However little was known of the side effects and the government had an epidemic on its hands in the late 1940s. Dainippon Pharmaceuticals was already an industrial manufacturer of the drug and little was known about the side effects. By 1946, the psychotic effects were becoming widespread and realising an epidemic was on its hands the government banned it in powder and tablet form in 1948 before banning it outright in 1951.Production of the drug merely moved abroad and over 17,000 were arrested in the first year of the new law. Arrest numbers continued to rise and the MoJ raised the penalty in 1954. By 1955 55,000 had been arrested for meth related offenses.

Many celebrities in Japan are let off for first offences for drug possession/use.

However theft is generally viewed as a larger crime than drugs in Japan. Over a third of petty theft is now committed by those 65 and over. Retirees are looking at ways to break into prison. The elderly population currently stands at 26.7% of the 127mn total. By 2060 the elderly will comprise over 40% (some 37.7mn).

Such has been the overpopulation in prisons, the government has had to increase capacity by 50% in the last decade and boost the incidence of early release and parole to create space for what one can only guess is a way of developing state sponsored retirement villages. Female prisons are already full but the MoJ wants to increase the number of female prison guards to prepare for the anticipated increase in elderly crime. Senior prisoners (65yo+) at 2014 end count shows a 140% increase over 1997 levels. For those 70 and above the rate is a more alarming 514%.

According to the Ministry of Justice, as of April 1, 2014, there were 77 main penal institutions (62 prisons that include four rehabilitation program centres, seven juvenile prisons, and eight detention houses) and 111 branch penal institutions (eight branch prisons and 103 branch detention houses). Japan has budgeted approximately ¥232 billion to run its jails in 2016. The cost of incarceration for the elderly runs to around ¥4.2mn which is much more than could be got through the welfare system (¥780k). The theft of a ¥200 sandwich could lead to a ¥8.4mn tax bill to provide for a 2 year sentence.  Re-incarceration rates inside of 6 years of release are 37% higher as of 2008 vs 1999.

If the MoJ wishes to keep a 3.6 prisoners per guard ratio and fills its 91,000 capacity then 25,000 prison guards will be required, an extra 7,500 (+47%) which does not take into account retirements, resignations and the ability to hire new recruits who must pass exams. These extra guards will cost ¥17.25bn.

The Japan National Police agency ( JNPA) has been the victim of budget cutbacks. Some 80% of the ¥3.2 trillion budget is spoken for by staff salaries. There are approximately 295,000 staff (including administration) but actual officer numbers have remained relatively stagnant at around 258,000 although has grown from around 220,000 back in the 1990s. Clearly budget cuts coupled with staff increases impacts on the budget for procurement for better surveillance and crime prevention equipment.


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