When you hear the words “children in juvenile training schools,” the image that comes to mind is probably of violent, rugged delinquents.
However, in recent years, the type of children in juvenile training schools is quite different. Rather, many of them are vulnerable children who have been bullied, have disabilities, or have never been to school.
Yoji Kurokawa of the Conscience School in Osaka, which supports the rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents, says, “If you go to a juvenile reformatory, you’re going to end up in a middle school.
“When I go to juvenile training schools, I sometimes hear from the boys inside that they don’t want to leave. If you stay in the reformatory, you are safe, you have food, clothing, and shelter, and you have people who understand you. So they want to stay here and not go out. This is unthinkable because a generation ago, all the kids wanted to get out as soon as possible, even if it meant running away.
Why would these freedom-seeking teenagers want to stay in a juvenile reformatory, of all places? We followed the dark side of this story.
All of them suffered tremendous abuse.
The number of children admitted to juvenile training schools has been decreasing for the past 20 years. In recent years, there have been places where there are only five or six juveniles in a maximum capacity of 50, and mergers have been taking place.
The aforementioned Kurokawa, in addition to running an izakaya (Japanese style pub) and a beauty salon, participates in the “Shokugyo Oyako Project” run by the Nippon Foundation to support the rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents. It is not easy for children who have been released from juvenile training schools to adjust to society. Therefore, they are interviewed and hired by the company while they are still in the system, placed in a dormitory upon their release, and given not only a job, but also human education to help them get out into the world.
“In the past, the only people in juvenile training schools were yankees like bikers, and their anger was directed toward society. Running amok, fighting, and school violence are typical examples. So, the way to rehabilitate them was to direct that energy in the right direction.
Today’s children in juvenile training schools are completely different. We have taken in 25 boys and girls over the past 8 years, and all of them were children who had been severely abused. There are also many children from institutions.
What they all have in common is a weakness in their ability to live, low self-esteem, and apathy. Many of them stop going to school at an early stage, such as in elementary school, and are unable to get along with others, and despair of living, such as self-harming or attempting suicide. These children are taken advantage of by bad adults, get involved in crimes, and are discarded like a lizard’s tail, and end up in juvenile training schools.
This is common to the majority of juvenile delinquents today. They have no hope for their own lives because of their abusive and other poor home environments. Their cognition is distorted, they cannot trust people, and they have no hope for society. Abuse also damages the brain and produces symptoms similar to those of developmental disorders, making it difficult for them to live up to their characteristics.
The bad adults in society take advantage of such weak children. They trick them into becoming the recipients of special scams, prostitute them through social networking sites, or addict them to methamphetamine. …… The children who are exploited in this way are discarded and brought to juvenile training schools.
These boys are called “asocial boys” because they stop going to school at an early stage and become absorbed in games and anime. This is different from “antisocial” kids such as bikers, who are not part of society.
They have been deprived of everything they need to live in society, such as trust, confidence, and hope, so they are unable to live successfully after leaving the reformatory.
His mother takes methamphetamine every day.
Let me give you an example of a child who came to Kurokawa.
A was born in Shiga Prefecture as the eldest son. His mother was a methamphetamine addict, and probably because she had used the drug during her pregnancy, he had a very low birth weight of only 850 grams.
She was able to survive thanks to intensive care in the hospital’s NICU, but her mother did methamphetamine every day, violated A, and abandoned her. There were days when he would go without food for days and would scavenge through the garbage.
When he entered elementary school, A realized that he was transgender. His body was male, but his heart was female. His classmates sensed this and began to tease and torment him. As a result, A lost her safe haven of school.
One day, an acquaintance of her mother’s came to her house and gave her a stimulant. A became addicted to the drug and could not get rid of it. He and his mother’s friends who came to the house became addicted to methamphetamine and became involved in various crimes.
His first arrest came when he was 15 years old. When the police came to arrest his mother, it came to light that A was also using methamphetamine, and he was sent to a reformatory.
After his release after about a year, A was sent to live in a preparatory home for self-reliance in Osaka instead of his parents’ house in Shiga. The home provided him with food, clothing, and shelter, and with the guidance of the staff, he was able to prepare for independence in society.
However, it is not easy for A, who has been abused and drugged since he can remember, to live in society with the burden of being a junior high school graduate who graduated from a reformatory. He stumbled in every aspect of his life, including human relations and work.
Then one day, he received a call from his mother in Shiga.
One day, she received a call from her mother in Shiga: “I’ve been released from prison and am now in Shiga. I don’t want to give you any more trouble, so I’m going to live with my mother in Osaka. Come back soon.
A, who had been overwhelmed by the frustration of living in society, decided to return to Shiga, thinking that if her mother had changed her mind, they might be getting along well.
However, his expectations were betrayed in an instant. There was nothing to it. The mother just wanted to receive welfare benefits by living with A. The money was all spent on methamphetamine, and again A was involved. He was arrested at the age of 19 and sent to a juvenile reformatory for the second time.
In juvenile training schools, children like A are not uncommon. Rather, it is a typical example.
In addition to the cognitive distortions caused by the abuse, A is transgender and suffers from the aftereffects of the methamphetamine he was forced to take in his early teens. She has attempted suicide and has no family or friends she can trust. I wonder how difficult it is for such a child to live independently in society.
This is what Kurokawa had to say.
“Like A, children who have been in juvenile detention are really weak. They have disabilities, they have difficulties in living, and they don’t even know the meaning of trust and effort. They have been deprived of so much in their lives.
For such weak children, society is a dangerous place like a jungle. They don’t know how to live, and if they are not careful, various adults will approach them and involve them in crimes, just like what A’s mother did to her. If they are not careful, various adults will approach them and implicate them in crimes, just like what Ako’s mother did to her. Bad adults have a great sense of smell to detect weak children and use them in a flash.
From my own experience as an interviewer, I can see this too. For example, a girl who was in a reformatory for girls in western Japan told me, “When I ran away from home, word got around on social media the same day, and five or six gangsters and yakuza approached me with methamphetamine. They drugged her with methamphetamine and forced her into prostitution. Children who are that weak are quickly preyed upon.
In light of this, it is understandable that Kurokawa compares society to a “jungle. For boys and girls, society is a frightening place where ravenous beasts lurk around every corner.
As Kurokawa puts it.
“I can’t help but understand why children in juvenile training schools are afraid to go out into the world and say, ‘I don’t want to leave the school’ or ‘I want to stay in the school. From their point of view, juvenile training school is a much safer place than society. They don’t have to starve to death, they don’t have to be attacked, and they don’t have to be exploited. That’s why they want to live in a reformatory.
The similarities remind me of the “ruthless criminally disabled”.
Some of the disabled are forced to live like homeless people in the society, without any support. But it is very hard to live a life exposed to the wind and rain, suffering from hunger and disease.
For such people, it is safer to be guaranteed food, clothing and shelter in prison than to sleep outdoors as homeless people. Therefore, they repeatedly commit simple crimes such as eating and drinking without paying, get out, get arrested, and go back to prison… and repeat their lives for decades. This is what it means to be a juvenile offender.
According to Kurokawa, “children who say they don’t want to get out of juvenile training school” can be seen as the reserve army of the rui-criminally disabled.
If a weak child enters a juvenile training school as a teenager and feels that he or she is safer there than in society, he or she will probably commit another crime and try to enter. However, since juvenile training schools are for minors, they become prisons for those over 20 years old. For example, if A were to do so after the age of 20, he would become a juvenile delinquent, suffering from the aftereffects of methamphetamine.
“In prison, people with leprosy are a big problem. If they are more comfortable in prison than in society, no matter how much we tell them to reform or not to come back, they will continue to commit crimes. But they don’t suddenly become like that when they become adults.
I believe that in order to eliminate the number of criminals who have committed crimes in the past, we must start by supporting children who do not want to leave juvenile training schools. It’s not easy, but if we can support them at a young age, their chances of rehabilitation will increase. That’s what I believe, and that’s why I’m working on rehabilitation.”
Kurokawa’s “Conscience School” is designed to do just that. By reaching out to juveniles as soon as they get out of juvenile training schools, he is trying to get as many people as possible on the rails of society.
However, this kind of effort will not go forward if it is left to the good intentions of a few people. Society as a whole needs to pay attention to the children who say they don’t want to leave the reformatory, learn about their problems, and provide support.
At that time, what can people in the general society do as neighbors, as members of society, and as parents? This is something that each and every one of us should think about.
Interview, writing, photography： Kota Ishii
Born in Tokyo in 1977. Nonfiction writer. Graduated from Nihon University College of Art. He is active in reporting and writing about culture, history, and medicine in Japan and abroad. His books include "The House of the 'Demons': Parents Who Kill Their Own Children," "Forty-three Killing Intentions: The Depths of the Kawasaki Jr. 1 Boys' Murder Case," "Absolute Poverty," "Rental Child," and "Vagabond Child 1945-.