TOKYO: Elderly criminals in Japan are more likely to be sent back to jail than younger cons, a government report said Friday, with ageing crooks increasingly likely to reoffend.
Almost one quarter (23.2 percent) of elderly inmates found themselves back behind bars within two years of being released, up 2.8 percent year-on-year, the justice ministry said.
Most over-65s who fall foul of the criminal justice system are fingered for petty crime such as shoplifting and theft, with experts putting the rise down to increased economic hardship.
Japan is on its way to becoming the world's first "ultra-aged" country, meaning more than 28 percent of its population will soon be over 65.
The latest figures show that 27.3 percent of a population of 127 million -- more than one in four people -- are aged 65 or older. That figure is expected to jump to 37.7 percent in 2050.
Poverty among the elderly is an increasing problem and some experts say that may be at the root of a geriatric crime wave making Japanese prisons look increasingly like nursing homes.
The situation has become so dire that the government approved a plan to deploy nursing care staff to about half of Japan's 70 prisons from April.
Prison life in Japan is far from easy -- talking is forbidden while at work, inmates must walk single file, and bathing is restricted.
Even during rare events put on for their entertainment, prisoners are only allowed to sit ramrod straight with their hands on their laps. Applause is generally forbidden.
In contrast to the ballooning recidivism of pensioners, reoffending rates among the general population are on their way down, Friday's report said.
Just 18 percent of one-time convicts are put back behind bars -- down 0.6 percentage points on last year.
For criminals aged 29, the ratio was even lower, at just over one-in-ten, the report said.