ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Something odd is happening in Japan. Senior citizens are committing petty crimes, like shoplifting, in bigger numbers than teenagers. NPR's Elise Hu tells us what might explain it.
ELISE HU, BYLINE: Inside the office of this private security firm in Tokyo are video monitors taking up an entire wall, bisected into 16 boxes, showing various camera angles on a nearby business.
We're looking at video of a grocery store - a live feed of a grocery store. There's lots of shoppers. Does this seem like a pretty typical afternoon?
MOCHIZUKU MORIO: (Foreign language spoken).
HU: That's Mochizuku Morio. He and his private security company are hired by stores across Japan to consult on crime prevention tactics and, if needed, to add some extra electronic eyes on their shops. So he's seen firsthand the trend taking hold over the past few years.
MOCHIZUKU: (Through interpreter) The recent trend is baby boomers that commit crimes these days. Shoplifters are grandmas and grandpas in their 70s and 80s.
HU: Crimes committed by Japan's elderly have doubled in the past decade. Morio has his theory.
MOCHIZUKU: (Through interpreter) They were brought up during and after the war, and they had to survive, and they have less of a conscience. They feel less guilty.
HU: Across town, my interpreter and I visit Yuki Shinko, author of a book called "Old People Underworld." Shinko attributes some of the crimes to dementia or side effects of medications, but more importantly...
YUKI SHINKO: (Through interpreter) They have a sort of moral corruption that happens as a result of their anxiety, stress and anger. They feel the need to relieve it in some form.
HU: Japan is one of the few countries in the world where the old outnumber the young. Here, more adult diapers are sold than baby diapers. And seniors are largely living alone, often isolated from a sense of community and value. While petty crimes make up the majority of those committed by the elderly, murder and assault are rising. Yuki Shinko.
YUKI: (Through interpreter) Our image of old people is that they slowly wither away. But I feel like it's the exact opposite right now. They are so young at heart and they have so much energy. But there is no place to shine, and they feel like they have all these things going to waste.
HU: Thousands of them are winding up in jail. Last year's police figures show the number of people 65 and older arrested for criminal offenses makes up 20 percent of all arrests. The Japanese government is spending tens of millions on constructing prison wards specifically designed to cater to a growing number of elderly inmates. Shinko says nicer prison facilities might not deter crime because if you steal and get away with it, you just got free groceries or money. If you get caught, serving time includes three hots and a cot, as the saying goes.
So are you saying that some of these criminals are actually trying to land themselves in jail?
YUKI: (Through interpreter) If you are arrested, you still get a roof over your head, you're fed three times a day, and you get health checkups. So it's sort of a win-win situation either way.
HU: A vexing policy problem for Japan and a glimpse of the kinds of challenges it faces as more and more of its population ages past retirement. Elise Hu, NPR News, Tokyo.
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