Wednesday, 2 March 2011


Ken Clarke reportedly intending to send fewer shoplifters to jail

"Shoplifters could escape prison by just paying for what they pinch and saying "sorry". Jail sentences and tough fines will be scrapped as the default punishment for nicking from stores under controversial plans soon to be unveiled by Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke. Instead he wants thieves to make face-to-face apologies to victims and pay compensation... Tory MP Douglas Carswell fumed: "It's the latest trendy thinking by the Ministry of Justice, and it will look like justice on the cheap." - The Sun

I believe passionately in restorative justice; but you know, I've never liked the word "shoplifting". It makes the act of theft sound almost accidental or worse, just a bit of naughty fun. The sort of thing you and your 11 year old mates might dare each other to do on the way home from school.

The word "shoplifting" conceals the fact that taking stuff without paying for it is stealing; like "picking a pocket" is stealing (despite the ersatz cheeky appeal of baby-faced Jack Wild - the late, great Dodger).

It's Shop Theft; and Shop Thieves cost the retail sector £4.4 billion every year – that's £12m per day (Centre for Retail Research 19thOctober 2010).

So while I agree 1,000% with keeping non-violent criminals firmly outside our prison system; let's call this crime by its proper name.

There are many things that drive a Shop Thief to take something which isn't legally theirs; so the justice system's first job must be to determine the individual root cause of the crime. Was the thief desperate? Poor money management? Forced into crime by a violent partner? Mentally ill or depressed? Part of a criminal gang? Once this is determined, an individual course of recovery can be charted, to benefit both the individual and society.

But does this reported piece of proposed legislation imply that stealing from a supposedly faceless company is somehow a "softer" crime than, say, snatching my handbag or stealing my iPhone? By taking my iPhone, (please, please don't) you cause me personal inconvenience. But stealing a few cans of food from a monolithic retailer such as Tesco or a T shirt from Top Shop – can anyone actually be called a victim?

Yes , they can.

These firms employ many, many thousands of people nationwide. They pay those many thousands of people out of their profits. So if the cost of theft and the security needed to prevent theft creeps erodes profit margins, something or someone has to give. And there's your victim.

Are shops closing down on your High Street? Have any of your friends or family lost a job in retail recently? Has a neighbour been made redundant by a firm which supplies services or goods to retailers? And were any of those redundancies caused by dwindling profit margins? are you finding it harder to make ends meet due to rising prices? Here are your victims.

Of course I am not saying that Shop Theft is the only factor causing profits to evaporate, prices to rise and workforces to shrink; we can look at oil prices, interest rates and the cost of bureacracy; but the losses due to theft may be the final strawfor a hard-pressed retailer.

So when we get to saying sorry to the victim, which is a crucial part of restorative justice, perhaps it's not the manager of Tesco nor the security guard at Debenhams who need the Shop Thief's apologies. More likely it's a newly-redundant Jobseeker who deserves the act of contrition .

That man struggling to make sense of the benefits labyrinth. Trying to understand what he's entitled to if his family are going to eat for the rest of the month, after being roundly chastised for waiting in the wrong queue. Because here's the reality. When this man's erstwhile employer was robbed of that final £4.99 T-shirt by a Shop Thief; the employee was robbed of his living.

1 comment:

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