A 42 year old man with Asperger syndrome was sentenced to 20 years in prison this week by the Osaka District Court after he convicted of killing his older sister last year. The prosecutors originally wanted Kazuhiro Ohigashi to be given a 16-year sentence, but the lay-judge trial gave him the maximum term possible in order prevent him from killing again in the future. The court did recognize Ohigashi suffers from Asperger syndrome, which is a disorder that leads to difficulty in social interaction, along with obsessive and repetitive patterns of behavior, but little thought was given about any kind of support system.
From the fifth grade of elementary school and onward, Ohigashi refused to go to school and would refuse to leave the house. The court ruled that he somehow developed the idea that his older sister was to blame for his withdrawal, and over the years built up a deep anger towards her. When she came to visit his home one day in July of 2011, he attacked and stabbed her repeatedly with a kitchen knife. His mother, who usually lives with him, was at an institution on that unfortunate day.
The Osaka District Court said that while Asperger syndrome had an effect on Ohigashi’s intent to kill his sister, he made the final decision on his own, and without sufficient punishment, there is fear he will commit similar crimes in the future. The defense lawyers sought a suspended term, arguing that he only developed such a murderous intention because of his disorder. As his mother and other family members now refuse to live with him, and there were no other options for taking care of him, the court felt that it would be best to maintain social order by locking Ohigashi up for the longest term possible, in order to let him deepen his “soul-searching.”
This case is a prime example of Japan’s lack of an adequate support system for those with mental illnesses. Statements like “he may commit similar crimes again,” and “there are no other options, so it’s best to maintain social,” absolutely scream to be read as “he has an illness that makes him different from everyone else, we don’t know how to take care of him, and he might be dangerous, so the best thing to do is imprison him for a long time.” Gifu University professor Ken Takaoka even says that the ruling is ridiculous and ineffective; instead of focusing on the lack of a support system for Asperger syndrome, the court simply shifted blame to the individual. It doesn’t matter if he is imprisoned for a long time, without support, he won’t be able to reflect on himself or his actions.