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​The rise of the geriatric criminal

These days, crime isn't only a young person's game.

With the aging of the populations in developed countries, there's also been a rise in elderly criminals in countries including the U.S., England and South Korea. The geriatric wrongdoers include members of a gang of thieves that recently stole more than $15.5 million in cash and gems from a London vault, with one suspect, a 74-year-old man, saying he couldn't hear a court clerk because he's hard of hearing, reports Bloomberg News.

The growing number of older criminals appears to be at least partly a function of aging populations. In the U.S., the median age is now almost 38, a decade older than in 1970. The ranks of the elderly are projected to surge in the next few decades, with the number of people over age 65 slated to almost triple by 2050.

Of course, most crimes are still committed by those under 30 years old. But the demographic shift toward an older population, especially as seniors increasingly deal with poverty, could mean even more grandpas and grandmas taking up a life of crime.

"When they see in their peer group that someone has much more money than they do, they are eager to get that," Bas van Alphen, a psychology professor at the Free University of Brussels, told Bloomberg. Sometimes boredom and loneliness can play a factor. "I had one patient who stole candies to handle the hours of loneliness every day," he added.

In South Korea, the rate of elderly crimes is growing faster than the senior population, the Korea Times reported this month. The number of crimes committed by seniors jumped 12.2 percent from 2011 to 2013, or more than twice the growth of the elderly population in the Asian country.

It's not only candy-stealing that's on the senior criminal's mind, however. The number of violent crimes such as murder and robbery committed by Korean seniors jumped 40 percent, the publication noted, blaming the spree on poverty, sickness and loneliness. About half of South Korean's elderly population is considered poor.

In the U.S., data collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation suggests that elderly crime is also on the rise. In 2000, about 58,500 arrests were made of Americans over the age of 65. By 2013, that had increased 44 percent to 84,415 arrests of senior citizens.

Still, arrests are only one measure, with Bloomberg noting that the Bureau of Justice Statistics has found that the rate of elderly crime among people from 55 to 65 has actually decreased since the 1980s.

In the U.K., the changing nature of crime itself may be keeping some lawbreakers in the game. Criminals today tend to live ordinary lives and see themselves as businessmen, which makes it easier for the elderly to maintain their criminal connections, Bloomberg noted.

In the recent vault heist in England, seven recently apprehended criminals ranged in age between 43 to 76, with a combined age of 432. The U.K.'s Daily Mail described the group as "looking more like aging golfing buddies than a sophisticated criminal gang."

With the U.S. prison system getting grayer, that's also adding to societal costs. Some public policy experts say that more people over the age of 40 are ending up in prison than in prior decades, while others blame the nature of America's demographics, with inmates aging inside the jails. One study found that the proportion of prisoners over the age of 50 has more than doubled since 2000, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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