The Yomiuri Shimbun Charitable persons in local communities help rehabilitate juvenile delinquents and people released on parole — a setup that is not very common in other nations around the world. It is indispensable for the central and local governments to support the volunteer probation officer system so it can be stably maintained.
Although volunteer probation officers have the status of part-time national civil service personnel, they are not paid for their work. As of January, there were 47,641 officers, a decrease of close to 1,300 over the past 10 years. The shortage of such personnel is particularly conspicuous in urban areas.
Their average age exceeds 65, and they have continued to gray. About 30 percent of these personnel are aged 70 or older. They can be recommissioned to serve in the position as long as they are under 76 years of age. In the near future, a large number of the officers are expected to retire due to the age of mandatory retirement. Unless young people are fostered to take on the task, it will be impossible to continue the front-line work of rehabilitating and supporting those who offended against laws.
Volunteer probation officers interview people subject to probation several times each month, and give them advice regarding the practical side of day-to-day life. The officers also look for places of employment on behalf of those people and provide consultations about their personal worries at times. The officers have a significant role to fulfill in preventing those who offended against laws from being isolated and keeping them from committing a crime again.
It should be noted that solely relying on volunteers’ good intentions means there will be a limit to securing new officers.
In replies to a questionnaire sent by the Justice Ministry to volunteer probation officers associations nationwide, 90 percent of the respondents said some prospective officers had turned down requests for them to serve in that position. In stating reasons for their rejection of the offers, some cited busyness and others said they could not gain the understanding of their families. Many people also said they would feel burdened if their homes were visited by people they looked after.
Promote support centers
It is common for volunteer probation officers to interview people they take care of in their homes, so as to convey to them the warmth of a family. In recent years, however, there has been an increase in the number of female officers. More than a few of them live in condominiums. It is natural for some officers to feel reluctant to hold interviews in their homes.
Since fiscal 2008, the central government has been promoting efforts to establish support centers for rehabilitation that serve as a base for volunteer probation officers’ activities. Community centers and other facilities are rented for such activities as interviews and training sessions. This endeavor is said to have invigorated exchanges among the officers and helped remove the anxiety felt by newly appointed officers.
The government is scheduled to increase the number of centers to 800 nationwide this fiscal year. It is also hoped that subsidies for rents, personnel and other expenses should be further increased.
It is also important for local governments to support the system.
In Tokyo’s Arakawa Ward, homegrown ward office employees have been acting as volunteer probation officers since 2012. This was initiated as a result of calls by the ward mayor, and these employees obtained permission to hold two positions. The number of such workers has increased to seven, and many of them intend to continue working as volunteer probation officers. It is hoped that the kind of effort made by the ward office will be spread to other areas in this country.
In lay judge trials, there has been a conspicuous increase in the number of cases in which suspended sentences, combined with probation, are handed down — a move aimed at attaching importance to rehabilitating defendants. Demand is growing for volunteer probation officers, as a system in which a portion of a prison term can be suspended has also started.
The beginning of the volunteer probation officer system dates back to the Meiji period (1868-1912). It is necessary to make modifications suited to the times. It is also necessary to consider increasing the number of probation officers tasked with cooperating with volunteer probation officers.