Friday, March 6, 2015

Doubtful policy of harsh punishment to juveniles

In Japan, a discussion regarding the amendment of the Juveniles Act was ignited following the occurrence of a murder case. A 18-year-old boy is suspected to have killed a junior high school boy and attempted to behead him.

To be honest, I am indifferent to this case itself. As I repeatedly say, the media reports are very often  biased, even far from the facts sometimes. So, I hesitate to make any comments referring to the crime report in general. I dare not to watch the news about this case.

Whenever an extraordinary crime case occurs, some self-styled specialists say something on the TV. Then, some politicians begin to insist the necessity of the amendment of the penal act or relevant legislation. Their proposals are often realized. However, nobody could have proven the efficacy of these policy changes.

The Juvenile Act has been amended some times in these some decades. Most of them aimed to punish the delinquents more harshly. As a result, are juvenile crimes reduced? It is difficult to answer this question, because juvenile crimes have been decreasing for a couple of decades, notwithstanding the public perceptions that recent juveniles have become violent.

This graph is made from the data published by the government. See White Paper on Crime.

Ministry of Justice: White Paper on Crime (in English)

Some people also say the quality of the juvenile crimes has become cruel. I cannot agree with this opinion. Before the WWII, there were many reports of juvenile crimes, some of which are far from our imagination. Senzen no shonen hanzai [Juvenile Crime before the WWII] (in Japanese)

Strengthening the punishment is not a trend limited to juveniles. Recently, the government amended the relevant laws to punish more seriously the persons with some diseases potentially damaging their concentration who caused a traffic accident. It was just after a serious case occurred by a track driver with epilepsy. The offender of this case skipped to anti-epileptic medication against the medical advice, and had past history of accidents. Actually, this guy may deserve to be blamed. However, if he had abandoned driving the track, he would have lost his job. I am doubtful if there were some compensations offered to him when recommended to stop driving.

Furthermore, it is ridiculous to make a drastic change responding only a few extraordinary cases. Most of the juveniles, patients, and citizens are benign. There are many examples that a shocking case influenced the society through an emotional argument. Most of such changes were not desirable, based on the ex post facto consideration.

To be honest, I had been supportive of the harsh punishment policy until some years ago. But now, I think there are little evidence harsh punishment ensure us the safe society. Japanese are traditionally polite and adherent to any regulation. Such cultural background has prevented us from an increase of crimes. On the other hand, we have not been concerned to organize our society spontaneously. Neutral and scientific point of view is required to address this matter.

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