Japan’s Volunteer Probation Officers

In 2015, I had the honor of speaking with a delegation of Probation Administrators from Japan and learning core elements of their community supervision practices.  One specific component that was very interesting to me dealt with their utilization of Volunteer Probation Officers. This article shares information specific to that model, as well as points that we may consider for application in our local operations. 

To see the full article, as well as interview results with administrators from other countries, please visit my website at https://sawproject.org/

More information on this topic can be found at: https://www.unafei.or.jp/english/activities/ap2014_E.html


Interview Question: What are Probation’s current workload issues in Japan (2015)?

We have 966 Probation Officers (POs) and approximately 81,000 persons under supervision per year

  • Average caseloads are 84 clients per PO
  • Approximately 48,000 Volunteer POs (VPOs) are in the community who collaborate with POs in offenders’ supervision
  • Average age of VPOs is 64.7
  • Probationers generally meet in VPOs’ home twice per month for supervision
  • VPOs have caseloads of no more than 2 clients on average


Japan’s model for using Volunteer Probation Officers has prompted many discussions during APPA meetings and beyond.  This system in which Probation Officers monitor, support, and supervise so many volunteers is very different than found in the United States.  Additionally, the fact that most volunteers are elderly (average age 64.7 years) who supervise two clients and hold meetings in their own homes constitutes a dramatic difference in philosophy from our own volunteer models. 

Our criminal justice volunteer system is generally seen as a venue for learning new skills, proving abilities, making career connections, and being available for access to desirable jobs.  These programs are focused most often towards people just out of college and beginning their careers, and are offered as a chance to prove themselves to potential employers.  In other words, volunteer positions are about providing opportunity to the volunteer/intern and are highly competitive slots to earn.

The system in Japan engages elderly volunteers who are described as being neighborhood support individuals identified as ‘Grandfather’ or ‘Grandmother’.  They are valued for their life experiences and accrued wisdom, and are honored for their service to the community.  When asked about liability issues with meeting clients in their homes, it was reported that safety training and oversight is in place to deal with the rare instances of violence, but these incidents are almost non-existent.   These positions are seen as an opportunity for the volunteer to give back to their community by providing a needed service and also offering an appropriate supportive relationship for the client.

Most people would agree that Japan’s culture is very different from our American culture (i.e., valuing age vs. youth; experience vs. energy), but we can learn much from their volunteer model especially as it pertains to relationship.  From criminal justice research we continue to better understand the importance of appropriate supervisor/client relationships.  Clients involved in a teamwork approach that includes ‘accurate empathy’ and a ‘working alliance’ have a greater chance for successful reintegration and reduced recidivism.  Elderly volunteers may have more time to build such relationships with their two clients, because of small caseloads and personal hours available, and also offer the qualities of patience and understanding earned over many years’ experience. 

In the United States we have a growing population of baby-boomers aging into retirement years.  Due to health consciousness and medical advances many retirees are still vibrant, energetic, and looking for opportunities to contribute within their communities.  This pool of educated and experienced workers could be recruited as helpers to our industry.  With reduced budgets across the nation we should not hesitate to explore this group as a possible low-cost labor force with much to offer; both in helpful services for administrators and, with appropriate training, supportive relationships for our clients.