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Japan’s Volunteer Probation Officers

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The Volunteer Probation Officer Law of 1950 formalized Japan’s unique and long-standing reliance on volunteers to assist professional probation officers and aid offenders of all ages with rehabilitation and to work on crime prevention. Today, just under 50,000 people from nearly every area of Japanese society serve as volunteer probation officers (VPOs), alongside less than 800 paid probation officers working with approximately 60,000 people on probation or parole. Half of all VPOs have been involved for more than 10 years and their average age is 62 – a development that is causing some concern.

In this Voices from the Past, we learn the history of VPO activity and why the Japanese believe that social and community support for offenders' rehabilitation are necessary as part of effective crime prevention. Granted, they have been extremely successful; according to a Stanford University study, “Fewer than 4 percent of Japanese criminals who have been assigned to a volunteer officer will commit another crime within a year of their release on parole or probation.”  In addition, we explore what other countries have learned from this Japanese model of volunteer involvement, and briefly review the issues affecting the future of VPOs in Japan.