Homelessness: Contrasting Japan and the US

Why Japan’s Homeless Are Different from North America’s – Part 1

LWIF (2017)

Film Review

This intriguing five-part documentary series contrasts Japan’s aggressive effort to reduce homelessness with the apparent indifference of the US government. In my view, the stark contrast makes an important statement about the shameful greed and corruption underlying the US political system.

Part 1: The series begins by examining why Japan has always had a much lower endemic rate of homelessness than the US:

  • Japan has much lower levels of drug abuse than the US,* although alcoholism and compulsive gambling are common problems contributing to Japanese homelessness.
  • Japan, which retained its mental hospitals when the US and other English-speaking countries closed theirs down (as a cost cutting measure) in the seventies and eighties.** The majority of America’s mentally ill either end up in prison or on the streets.
  • Japan has few, if any traumatized war veterans. The latter represent a sizeable proportion of the US homeless population.

*Japan has no paramilitary organization comparable to the CIA, which openly engages in narcotics trafficking as part of its strategy to destabilize regimes unfriendly to Wall Street interests.

**In the US, the community mental health movement Kennedy started never received full funding following his assassination. Instead the mental health centers he created to replace mental hospitals have experienced continuous budget cuts dating back to the Reagan administration.

Connecticut: Reducing Mass Incarceration Rates and Prison Costs

Life After Parole

Frontline (2017)

Film Review

Life After Parole is a Frontline documentary about a Connecticut program seeking to reduce mass incarceration rates and prison costs by granting low risk offenders early parole. The film follows four new parolees over a 1 1/2 year period. In each case, it’s clear their risk of re-offending directly relates to the quality of their relationship with their parole officer.

It’s clear from this documentary the effectiveness of this experiment dependsĀ  largely on the ability of parole officers to shift roles. Instead of mainly monitoring parolees for infractions of their parole conditions, they must learn to play a supportive role in helping former inmates build a new life for themselves. At the moment, they are expected to play both roles simultaneously, and criminologists question whether this is even possible.

Of the four offenders, the sole female is the only one to stay out of prison on the first try. I suspect this relates partly to the nature of her offense (the three men, all imprisoned for drug-related crimes, violate their condition of parole by relapsing), partly to strong motivation to be re-united with her son and partly to a strong relationship with a highly skilled parole officer. The woman, who is African American, has been in prison for ten years for slashing another women with a knife. The length of this sentence for an assault and battery charge is ludicrous. It speaks volumes to the blatant racism of the US criminal justice system.