Cure for crime: Give me a job

by Robert Moorehead

In today’s news of the obvious, a white paper released by the Ministry of Justice states that employment is the key to prevent youth offenders from repeating their crimes. In response, the world says “Duh.”

Since Japan’s economic decline in the 1990s, young Japanese men have struggled to find full-time, relatively permanent work. To reduce employment costs, Japanese companies have protected older workers, at the expense of younger workers. For an insightful analysis, see Mary C. Brinton’s Lost in Transition: Youth, Work, and Instability in Postindustrial Japan.

“Young people discharged from reformatories feel a sense of relief in being accepted by society when given employment and a place to stay,” says Mitsuyuki Iijima, president of a trucking company in Tokyo and volunteer probation officer.

Then again, don’t most people feel a sense of relief when they’re given a job and a place to stay? Which would give you more relief, no job and no place to stay, or a job and a place to stay? Who’s more likely to commit crime, someone with a job (and thus something to protect) or someone who’s unemployed (and thus has little or nothing to lose)?

“It is a highly important task for us to extend a helping hand to them in securing employment, along with helping improve the ability of families to supervise and support them,” he added. Reformatories encourage families of inmates to meet them as frequently as possible to ensure a positive living environment awaits them after their release from the facilities. Having strong family ties is essential to preventing recidivism, the white paper stressed.

So a positive living environment can discourage criminality. Again … duh. However, the news article plays a bit loose with the statistics. (Let’s assume that the original report is more rigorous in its statistical analyses.) The strength of family ties are measured by the number of times your family visits you while you’re in jail.

96 percent of the men said that their families had visited them twice or more, and only four percent (27 out of 644 people) said their families had visited them only once or not at all. Four percent! Those whose parents visited them only once or not at all had a recidivism rate 11 points higher, but now we’re only talking about two percent of the total group (15 out of 644 re-offended). Am I missing something? 15 men re-offended, whereas we’d expect only 12 to do so. So the difference is only three people? 644 young men are in jail, and researchers’ analysis explains the behavior of only three of them?

It’s also worth noting that the article does not specifically state that it’s referring only to men, but … it is. If the white paper were referring to the criminality of young women, it would specifically say so, as would the newspaper article. However, men’s gender is understood here. It’s the default, accepted category. So we can write an article about men’s criminality while referring to people in general, but an article about women’s criminality would refer only to women.

The decline of employment opportunities for Japan’s young men likely foretells greater propensity to crime. For those who don’t go on to college, high schools used to link students to full-time employment after graduation. Now, those links have largely been severed. More students are thus continuing their education into 2-year or 4-year colleges or vocational schools, but without improved employment prospects when they graduate, is staying in school just delaying the inevitable? Jobs that used to be attainable with a high school diploma now go to college graduates, further marginalizing those who don’t go to college.

One question unanswered in these studies is what happens to minority youth in Japan. Groups such as the Burakumin and Zainichi Koreans have historically been outside the mainstream employment market, which guides youth to work for large corporate employers. Joining these groups are second-generation South American Nikkei, who are now coming of age in Japan. If mainstream Japanese are struggling to find jobs with major employers, what effect is that having on minority candidates who are already on the margins?

Link: “Employment called the key to reducing recidivism among young offenders.” The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 13, 2011.

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