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Justice Ministry to test new elderly inmates for dementia at 8 prisons

(Mainichi)

The Ministry of Justice is set to subject new prison inmates aged 60 or above to a dementia test at key prisons in Japan from fiscal 2018 onward, it has emerged.

The ministry plans to carry out a simple test for signs of dementia at the key prisons of the country's eight regional correction headquarters, and will consider introducing the test at other prisons if the measure is successful.

With the incarceration of elderly prisoners on the rise, the move is aimed at ensuring that appropriate medical care and welfare support can be provided to inmates suspected to have dementia by detecting signs of the condition at an early stage.

Tests at the key prisons in Sapporo, Miyagi, the Tokyo suburban city of Fuchu, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima, Takamatsu and Fukuoka will involve a psychological examination based on skills such as memory and calculation. For example, inmates could be asked to subtract seven in a sequence down from 100, or to name as many vegetables as possible. A score of 30 would give them full marks, while a score of 20 or less would imply signs of dementia.

If the inmate is suspected to have dementia following the test, then he will be assigned less challenging prison tasks, and receive guidance related to exercise and learning, in an attempt to slow down progression of the condition.

The testing is also expected to help prison staff as they try to deal appropriately with inmates who are relatively slow to respond to instructions and tasks. Until now, some prisoners exhibiting signs of dementia were reportedly not given the right kind of guidance unless their symptoms were obvious.

In recent years, there has been noticeable aging within Japan's prison population. According to the recent White Paper on Crime, 2,498 people aged 65 or above entered prison in 2016, which is roughly 4.2 times higher than the figure for 1997.

Moreover, the percentage of elderly prisoners has been increasing year after year, with the latest figure standing at 12.2 percent.

According to Ministry of Justice estimates released in January 2016, more than 10 percent of prisoners aged 60 or above (about 1,300 inmates) have signs of dementia, while approximately 1,100 inmates aged 65 or above have these signs.

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