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Graying Lawbreakers Pack Japan's Prisons
Depression, Loneliness Lead Some Senior Citizens to Crime
By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, April 17, 2006; A01
ONOMICHI, Japan -- In a spotless prison ward here, inmates while away their free time reading large-print samurai novels and singing golden oldies on karaoke. Support rails and metal walkers help them ease into soothing steam baths and do light daily chores. After dining on low-sodium suppers in their rooms, most of the fragile felons curl up for the night with freshly filled hot-water bottles.
The senior citizens ward inside crammed Onomichi Prison is being hailed as a model for Japan, a rapidly graying nation now grappling with an alarming surge in aged criminals. In a country long renowned for unlocked doors and a culture of reverence for one's elders, the phenomenon has left law-enforcement and penal officials scrambling to manage the recent flood of seniors being locked behind bars.
Japanese over 60 now represent the country's fastest growing group of lawbreakers, with the soaring rate of senior delinquents far exceeding their growth in the general population. The number of those age 70 and older who have been charged has increased the most -- doubling in just four years to a record 21,324 in 2004, the most recent year for which statistics are available. By comparison, juvenile arrests edged up only 2.2 percent during the same period, according to the National Police Agency.
The leap in delinquency among the elderly is in part because of demographics. Japan has the world's longest lifespan -- 82 years -- and the highest percentage of seniors, with almost one in five Japanese now 65 or older. But officials are also citing an outbreak of a geriatric crime, including a spike in first-time offenders committing everything from petty theft to murder.
The situation is forcing Japan to confront the problems of an aging prison population more quickly than other industrialized nations facing similar crises. At the same time, Japan is struggling to understand the factors driving seniors to crime.
Criminologists blame the collapse in recent years of traditional extended families, in which elderly Japanese live with their adult children. Increasingly left on their own, older Japanese are suffering higher rates of depression and other mental illnesses. In some cases, experts say, that is manifesting itself as crime.
Limited national welfare benefits also have left a small but growing minority of elderly confronting severe financial problems -- leading some to see Japan's relatively safe prisons as an attractive alternative to life on their own, analysts and prisoners say. In 2004, there were only 10 reported incidents of prisoner-to-prisoner violence in the country's 64 penitentiaries.
"Like junior high school students, some older people have the money to pay for things, but they are stealing anyway because they want attention from their families," said Hiroshi Shojima, professor of criminal psychology at Fukushima University. "But it is also true that Japanese prisons are comparatively comfortable. They are spotlessly clean and generally free of violence. If you are a lonely and struggling old person, that atmosphere can be tempting."
The prisoners of Onomichi Prison, as with so many in Japan, enter a life behind bars that often seems part jail, part military school, part monastic retreat. Most prisoners sleep in barred cells six to seven to a room, with long periods of silence enforced to control verbal contact between inmates and prevent the rise of prison gangs. It has, officials and experts say, limited the ability of Japanese yakuza members from forming criminal gangs -- and is cited as a key factor in the extraordinarily low incidents of prison violence.
It also, officials say, affords a chance for inmates to reflect on their crimes and seek a measure of inner peace. The senior ward, however, offers more seclusion -- a hospital-like environment equipped with many private rooms. Charts on doors indicate special dietary and physical needs. The recreation area, with all walls papered over by prison artwork, allows the older inmates to enjoy pin bowling and light exercise -- but never more than they can tolerate, officers insist.
The vast majority of crimes being committed by seniors are nonviolent -- usually shoplifting or other types of petty theft. In some instances, "grandpa bandits" are acting together -- last February, police in southwestern Japan arrested three men, ages 71, 69 and 67, for allegedly organizing a purse-snatching ring.
As Japanese live longer, caregivers come under more strain. A 61-year-old inmate in Onomichi Prison who agreed to speak on the condition that he be identified only by his initials, N.T., said he had spent decades caring for his elderly mother. She suffered from severe arthritis, asthma and incontinence, and would frequently spend nights crying out in agony, he recalled. He said she repeatedly begged him to "end her pain." Struggling financially and desperate, he stabbed her to death with a fruit knife in the heart two years ago.
He got four years in prison -- a light sentence for what appeared to be a mercy killing. He is eligible for an early parole if one of his three siblings takes him in. They have refused, and have even asked him not to return to their hometown on the breezy Sea of Japan.
"I guess I can understand -- I killed our mother," he said, wearing a gray jumpsuit and staring down at his hands as he wrung them. "But now I have nowhere to go. Here, at least, I am well cared for. I have made many friends and I feel safe. It is getting out that makes me feel more anxious."
Particularly harsh societal judgment on those who commit crimes has made reintegration into society for repeat offenders exceedingly difficult. It is not uncommon for shamed Japanese families to erase related criminals from their lives.
"My three sons will no longer speak to me, and my wife's family forced her to divorce me," said a 75-year-old resident of the Onomichi's senior citizens ward who also asked to be identified by only his initials, S.I. He said he committed his first robbery at age 61 after the coffee shop he owned went bankrupt. Since then, he has been jailed four times for theft -- most recently in 2003. "This is my home now. There is a lot of discipline here, but life is not so bad."
Alarmed by what they have seen, Japanese law-enforcement authorities have launched a two-year study of the social causes behind elderly crime. But the effects are already being felt inside Japan's overcrowded prisons.
The proportion of prisoners 60 and older in Japan reached a record 14.5 percent in 2004 -- almost triple the U.S. rate, according to government statistics. That has contributed to rising prison health-care costs, which jumped 12 percent over the past four years, as well as overcrowding. Prison occupancy has swelled to 117 percent of capacity, compared with 79 percent a decade ago.
Prisons have been forced to adapt. None has gone as far as the one here in Onomichi, a town in Hiroshima prefecture about 400 miles southwest of Tokyo. The prison set aside areas for elderly prisoners as far back as 1985, but officials began taking additional steps in the late 1990s. Today, the feeblest 35 of the prison's 46 inmates over age 60 have been moved to the senior ward, where handrails have been placed in the halls and alongside toilets.
To avoid climbing stairs, the 35 men are grouped on one floor and, if needed, are provided walkers to help them get to nearby workstations, a recreation room and steam baths. They have shortened work hours -- with their labor consisting mostly of folding paper bags. A portable Japanese straw mat is kept on hand if any of them feel faint and need a rest.
"The social problems associated with the aging nation are being reflected in the growing number of elderly prisoners," said Takashi Hayashi, Onomichi's deputy superintendent. "That is forcing our prisons to take the same measures as elderly care homes. These men are paying for crimes, but we also have an obligation to provide them with care. It is not easy, but that is what we are trying to do."
Special correspondent Akiko Yamamoto contributed to this report.
GOP Transsexual Takes On Powerful House Whip Roy Blunt
by The Associated Press
April 15, 2006 - 5:00 pm ET
(Springfield, Missouri) In many ways, Midge Potts is like other everyday citizens who feel the call of politics. The self-described fiscal conservative and Eisenhower Republican is running a one-person primary campaign against five-term congressman and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt in southwest Missouri's 7th District.
A few things set Potts, 37, apart from many Republican candidates. She thinks President Bush should be impeached over his domestic spying program, for example. And she used to be a man.
Potts, a Navy veteran who served in the early 1990s as Mitchell Eugene Potts, is a transgender person, a man who feels a call to live as a woman.
Potts has been living that way full-time for about two and a half years, taking herbal supplements to make her body's hormones more female, changing her legal name, dressing in women's clothes and wearing makeup.
"Even though I have my own unique niche, being transgender, I really feel like I'm a candidate of the regular people, for the regular people," Potts told The Associated Press.
Potts is Missouri's first openly transgender political candidate, according to political observers. Nationally, transgender groups say there are a few others who have won local seats, including in Georgia and South Dakota, and at least two more who have campaigned unsuccessfully for state offices in Vermont and Arizona.
"We're going to see this more and more. Every year we're going to see more and more candidates running, and I think it's great that trans people are running," said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington D.C.
Potts faces an uphill battle in a region where the Republican Party is dominated by moral and social conservatives.
"Given the conservative nature of the 7th District, her chances of winning the primary are slim. And the primary voter tends to be more conservative yet," said Missouri State University political science professor George E. Connor.
"To have her run as a Republican is not the craziest thing, because there is a part of the Republican Party that is fiscally conservative but shows support for personal choice. It harkens back to a part of the Republican Party that does not exist in southwest Missouri," Connor said.
Blunt, who has won solidly in his previous races, and the state Republican Party declined to comment on Potts' campaign.
Dee Wampler, a Blunt supporter and prominent Springfield Republican activist, dismissed Potts' chances, in part because she is transgender. "A person with that background would not atrract a serious vote," Wampler said.
Potts says she is running to return the voice of ordinary people to Congress.
She says politics has become dominated by lobbyists and corporate money, as highlighted by the corruption case against lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the Texas campaign fundraising indictment of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
"Now is the time for each of us to stand up for what is right by publicly proclaiming that the political corruption which has been pervasive in our national government must stop," she wrote in a letter to Blunt and other candidates, urging them to foreswear money from political action committees.
Potts is not rolling in money. She says she has raised less than $600 since filing last month to run in the Aug. 8 primary.
Her yard signs are made by hand on pieces of cardboard she collects around town and stencils with the slogan "recycle government" and "vote for change."
Potts' main campaign tool at the moment is her Web site, http://www.pottsforcongress.com .
There, she lays out a platform in favor of a debt-free America, energy independence, term limits, a "People's Veto" and direct democracy.
Potts served on the USS Yosemite in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Shield after the first Iraq war. She says she favors a strong national defense but wants to end the current Iraq deployment and bring forces home to reinforce U.S. borders against illegal immigration.
Potts dismisses the idea that southwest Missouri is too socially conservative to vote for a transgender candidate. She says she has gotten more positive feedback than she ever expected.
"People are seeing what I stand for. I'm not for a gay or a transgender agenda, I'm for equal rights for all people," she said.
A native of Springfield, Potts says that as a child she already felt more like a girl than a boy. After a marriage ended in divorce in 2003, Potts said she went from experimenting with female dress and makeup to living as a woman full-time.
She has not had surgery to alter her body, though.
"If I could be in a female body right now, I would like that. But not only is surgery expensive, it's dangerous. So I don't know if that will happen to that degree."
Potts says she has been laughed at occasionally since coming out as a transgender person but never saw a need to move to another part of the country that might have a larger transgender community.
"I love the Ozarks. I love the land. I don't know why I would want to move anywhere else. Just because I differ in some of my thinking, I shouldn't let that chase me away from the place that I love," Potts said.
"I think I should have an equal voice in this debate as to what the Republican Party stands for and what America should stand for."
Hong Kong turns down gay marriage
The Associated Press
SUNDAY, APRIL 16, 2006
HONG KONG Hong Kong, home to hundreds of thousands of British nationals, has blocked local residents from entering into same-sex civil unions at the British Consulate, a spokeswoman at the consulate said Sunday.
Hong Kong's Home Affairs Bureau told the consulate Tuesday that the Chinese territory would not allow same-sex couples to marry on the mission's premises, the spokeswoman, Vanessa Gould, said.
British law allows British nationals to enter civil unions with non-British nationals of the same gender at British diplomatic offices worldwide, so long as the local government does not object.
Hong Kong, a Britain colony until 1997, is home to more than 200,000 British passport holders and 3.5 million more who are eligible for the British National (Overseas) passport, a travel document that does not grant the right of abode in Britain.
Holders of either document are considered British nationals under the Civil Partnership Act.
But the Hong Kong government "does not consider it appropriate to agree to the registration of civil partnerships of same-sex couples at the British Consulate-General Hong Kong at present," the consular office said on its Web site.
The Hong Kong government made the decision because the government was still in the process of consulting on the need for laws against discrimination against gays, and did not want to be perceived as taking sides while the issue was being discussed, Lily Chen, a Home Affairs Bureau spokeswoman, said.
Roddy Shaw, a gay rights activist, said, "This is a matter of British nationals exercising their rights."
So far Australia, Croatia, South Africa, Venezuela, Belarus, Israel, Switzerland, Vietnam, Colombia, Japan, Turkmenistan, Costa Rica and certain U.S. states have allowed local British diplomatic offices to conduct same-sex civil unions for British subjects.
Homosexuality is not outlawed in Hong Kong. A local court recently ruled in a favor of a challenge against laws that differentiate between gay and heterosexual sex.
The age of consent for heterosexual sex in Hong Kong is 16, while the legal age for "sodomy" is 21. Gay activists say the distinction is discriminatory. The government is appealing the ruling.
Republicans worry old tactics won't draw voters
By Adam Nagourney The New York Times
MONDAY, APRIL 17, 2006
WASHINGTON In 2004, Karl Rove declared that President George W. Bush would win re-election if Republicans turned out millions of religious and other conservative voters who had stayed home in 2000. They did just that, with the help of voter outreach campaigns, a network of church appeals and state initiatives to ban gay marriage.
In 2006, with both the House and Senate in the balance, the Republican Party faces much the same challenge in this election. This time, though, party leaders say the conservative base seems enervated by administration missteps and unfulfilled expectations, and recent polls have reflected this.
"There is reason for them to be concerned," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a Christian conservative group.
The question for Republicans, then, is how to draw this crucial group to the polls and keep them voting for the party's candidates.
The short answer is that some of what may have worked last time - like initiatives to ban gay marriage - is on the runway, ready to go. But 2006 is nothing like 2004, and the get-out-the-vote tools wielded last time do not seem quite as formidable this year.
True, the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee, is currently planning to bring a constitutional amendment that would prohibit gay marriage to a vote in June.
So far, seven states have amendments against gay marriage on the ballot this November - South Dakota, Idaho, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin and Colorado - according to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, compared with 11 states in 2004. And there is now talk in some states, including Ohio, of a measure that would bar adoption by same-sex couples.
Yet there is a strong sense among Republicans that the gay rights issue is not as powerful as it once was, particularly when it comes to state initiatives like the one in Ohio that helped Bush carry the state in 2004. Republicans are running out of contested states where such a ballot could qualify and pass, and gay rights groups have been more aggressive in fighting these initiatives as they appear.
"Gay marriage is not the magic bullet to get us out of our situation," said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.
Beyond that, Republican officials said that candidates in culturally conservative parts of the country would try to fight efforts to allow stem cell research.
"That is an issue of great importance that has moved to the side, but I think will come back strong in the next few months," said Colin Hanna, founder of the conservative advocacy group Let Freedom Ring.
But some Republicans say they fear that the issue could help the Democrats, because polls show widespread public support for the research.
In Missouri, a proposed initiative would put the right to stem cell research in the state constitution. Senator Jim Talent, a Republican facing a tough challenge, has declined to take a position on the initiative and has also abandoned his support for a federal ban supported by many Senate Republicans; his Democratic opponent, Claire McCaskill, the state auditor, supports the Missouri initiative.
Other state initiatives this year could prove more effective in moving conservatives, analysts say, in particular efforts to limit the Supreme Court ruling on eminent domain, and to prevent the government's taking of private property, a hot issue with many conservatives.
Immigration is also a tempting target for Republican strategists because it is such an urgent concern. There is considerable support for the kind of tough bill passed by House Republicans.
"The grass-roots base of the conservative Republican Party is very keenly interested in securing our borders," said Morton Blackwell, the president of the Leadership Institute, a conservative grass-roots training organization. But the risks of using that issue, and alienating Hispanic voters, became clear in the last few weeks with the mass demonstrations of immigrants in American cities.
It seems telling that in conversations last week, many Republicans said they were looking not to their party but to the Democrats.
"Our ace in the hole may well eventually be some goofy idea pushed by the Democrats that makes people want to run," Graham said. "But if that doesn't happen, we are in trouble."
GOP Bid To Shore Up Conservative Support With New Effort To Pass Anti-Gay Amendment
by The Associated Press
April 16, 2006 - 11:00 am ET
(Washington) Protection of marriage amendment? Check. Anti-flag burning legislation? Check. New abortion limits? Check.
Between now and the November elections, Republicans are penciling in plans to take action on social issues important to religious conservatives, the foundation of the GOP base, as they defend their congressional majority.
In a year where an unpopular war in Iraq has helped drive President Bush's approval ratings below 40%, core conservatives whose turnout in November is vital to the party want assurances that they are not being taken for granted.
"It seems like for only six months, every two years — right around election time — that we're even noticed," said Tom McClusky of the Family Research Council.
"Some of these better pass," he added. "You notice when it's just lip service being paid."
Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer agreed that the effort matters.
"If they get to these things this summer, which we expect that they will, that will go a long way toward energizing the values voters at the base of the Republican Party," said Bauer, head of Americans United to Preserve Marriage.
GOP leaders long have known that the war and merely riding the coattails of a second-term president could disillusion their base.
If there was any doubt, conservatives issued a concise warning last month. Four groups representing evangelical Christians said an internal survey found that 63% of "values voters" — identified as evangelical Christians whose priorities include outlawing abortion and banning same-sex marriage — "feel Congress has not kept its promises to act on a pro-family agenda."
The Family Research Council, which headlined the survey, also announced it would hold a "Values Voter Summit" in September to "raise the bar of achievement for this Congress." At the top of the agenda could be a call for new leadership in Congress if those in power have not acted on social conservatives' issues.
Some leaders read the warning signs early.
The House has approved an amendment to the Constitution to outlaw flag burning and passed a bill to crack down on the practice of minors' crossing state lines for abortions to evade legal limits in their own states
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and a possible presidential candidate in 2008, announced early this year that the Senate would consider those and the anti-gay marriage amendment that has failed in both chambers despite Bush's endorsement.
"When America's values are under attack, we need to act," Frist told the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.
Those were sweet words to Bauer's ears.
"The marriage amendment is in a class by itself because of what's at stake," Bauer said.
House Republican officials close to the scheduling process said the marriage amendment is headed for a House vote in July.
Sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., also a possible presidential candidate, the measure would have the Constitution define marriage as the union between a man and a woman — in effect rescinding a 2004 Massachusetts law that made gay marriage legal.
Sending the proposed amendment to the states for ratification may not win the two-thirds majority required in the House and Senate. But committing to a vote in June is a gesture of good faith that would resonate with social conservatives, Bauer said.
The amendment banning flag desecration, a perennial vote and favorite of some conservatives, would need the same majority for ratification. Frist has promised to bring it up in June. The amendment was ratified by the House last year but was not brought to a vote in the Senate after 35 senators declared their opposition.
The bill to curb abortions among minors has long been on Frist's list of legislative priorities. Legislation imposing penalties on anyone who helps a minor cross state lines to obtain an abortion won easy passage in House last year.
Frist has promised to bring a similar bill to the Senate floor before the year is out.
Not on the Senate's schedule, however, is a bill allowing taxpayers to underwrite human embryonic stem cell research, a science still in its infancy that could lead to cures for many diseases.
Social conservatives, including Bush, say that the process by which the cells are derived is morally akin to abortion because the fertilized egg is destroyed.
Frist, a surgeon who enraged many in the GOP base last year when he supported a House-passed bill to fund the process, had planned a Senate vote on the matter by Easter. Congress adjourned for the holiday this month without such a debate anywhere on the Senate's calendar.
大奥 よしながふみ・著 白泉社●女がホレる“女”吉宗
彼女? 彼じゃなくて?? とお思いになるのは無理からぬことだが、彼女でまちがいない。この「大奥」の世界における吉宗は女。というか、全体に男女が逆転してる世界なのだ。