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1 Criminal trend and social background
The White Paper on Crime 1989 cited the following as reasons for Japan's relatively smaller number of crimes: national character based on law-abiding spirit; economic development; low unemployment rate; high educational standard; unofficial social control in local communities; geographical conditions as an archipelago; civilian cooperation in the operation of criminal justice; strict regulation of weapons and drugs; effective police activities shown by the high clearance rate; and appropriate and efficient function of criminal justice organs.
However, looking at the present situation from these factors, it is said that Japanese society has lost a great deal of these crime deterrence functions.
In order to clarify the reality of the deteriorating crime trend, recent White Papers have taken up various topics and not only made statistical and numerical analysis but also made analysis of social factors lying behind the recent criminal trend.
For example, the White Paper on Crime 2002 pointed out as follows as part of the background of the recent criminal trend. The recession had been prolonged after the burst of the bubble economy that lasted from the late Showa era to the early Heisei era, and during this long recession, large companies went bankrupt, financial institutions went broke, companies strengthened their restructuring, and the overall unemployment rate increased. All these facts were deeply related to the recent criminal trend. At the same time, educational functions at home and school deteriorated, the general public came to have weakened normative consciousness, and local communities were going to lose their sense of solidarity. All these factors, which had traditionally worked as crime deterrence functions, came to be weakened.
Furthermore, the White Paper on Crime 2004 pointed out the following: the impact of prolonged recession, which could be observed from the increasing rate of the unemployed among newly admitted inmates and probationers/parolees; weakened family ties, which was considered to be one of the causes of a decrease in the average number of household members and an increase of the divorce rate; and the deterioration of the general public's willingness to cooperate with investigating authorities, which could be inferred from decreases in the number and the ratio of cases whose major suspects were identified through investigation by obtaining information widely from residents.
At present, it is required to analyze the impact of changes to these social factors on the criminal trend and design and implement more effective countermeasures. For that purpose, it is necessary to clinically analyze the relations between the criminal trend and various social factors based on objective data.
However, the criminal trend is considered to be influenced by a number of social factors that are complexly intertwined with each other. It is not easy to specify exact social factors that have significant influence on the criminal trend based on data and clarify their relations. Some factors may be only cited as one of many hypotheses or there may be a case where it is not appropriate to cite only certain parts of factors.
On that premise, this White Paper will examine data related to economic situations that recent White Papers all pointed out as a part of social factors behind the criminal trend.
Fig. 6-2-3-1 shows the trend in the overall unemployment rate since 1980.
Fig. 6-2-3-1 Overall unemployment rate (1980-2005)
Looking at the trends in the number of reported cases and the unemployment rate, it seems that a rise in the unemployment rate due to recession has had an impact to increase property offenses, which account for most of the reported cases for non-traffic penal code offenses, while a decline in the unemployment rate has contributed to a decrease of offenses.
It is pointed out that it is highly probable that changes to the unemployment rate have significant impact on increases and decreases of property offenses. Based on this, employment measures such as job assistance for specified persons including those who have committed offenses can be considered as one of the effective crime deterrent measures.
In the meantime, Japan has been shifting to an aging society with a falling birthrate, with few equals in the world. The progress of economic globalization and deregulation has accelerated social changes. Rapid changes in the social trend including dilution of human relationships in local communities and the emergence of highly-advanced network society have had an impact on the criminal trend and may generate unpredictable new types of offenses one after another in the future. Therefore, it is becoming more and more difficult to specify social factors influencing the crime trend by accumulating past data and thereby predict the future crime trend.
In recent years, there is a tendency prevailing widely in Japan to prioritize the mammonism or to give top priority to satisfying personal desires. The recent rapid deterioration in the criminal trend may warn people to have doubts about such social tendency and reflect on themselves.
Considering such social situations and criminal trend, what is required now is not just to specify the causes of offenses and protect the safety of the general public and local communities against such offenses but to consider how to build a society that has strong resistance to all types of offenses. In local communities, local residents have come to activate their voluntary crime prevention activities. Signs of changes in public awareness have thus come to be observed recently.
In establishing future criminal policies, it will become more and more important to have the viewpoint of strengthening crime deterrence functions of the overall society and aim to construct a "crime-resistant society" by reconsidering how local communities and families, as well as the Japanese society as a whole, should function.