Headlines: December 12th, 2003

The crime reduction campaign group SmartJustice is calling for more investment in community schemes after releasing figures that show that eight out of ten shoplifters are reconvicted within two years of being released from prison. The figures are being highlighted in the run up to Christmas when retail theft is at its peak.SmartJustice says shop theft costs retailers around 750 million pounds a year and adds to customers’ bills by around 100 pounds per household per year. Alcohol is the product most likely to be stolen at this time of year, followed by clothing, cosmetics, aftershave and perfume. Research shows that shoplifters follow traditional Christmas shopping patterns by targeting heavily promoted brand name products.

The campaign is calling for more money to be invested in community-based initiatives that have been shown to cut re-offending dramatically. It points to the Thames Valley Police Retail Theft Initiative, a multi-agency approach, which has reduced reconviction rates from 35 per cent to 3 per cent.

Under the Thames Valley scheme offenders selected to go on the programme are brought into contact with the police, the managers of the stores involved, drug workers and careers advisors. The work with them is conducted in a modular form according to the needs of the individual offender’s profile with modules designed to form a process of education rather than punishment. Following its success similar schemes have been set up in Sussex, Kent, Essex and other areas of the country. WPC Joanna Mears, project manager of the Thames Valley scheme said the idea was to make offenders see that stealing from shops was totally unacceptable.

Lucie Russell, director of the SmartJustice campaign, said it was vital that shopkeepers were protected from the devastating effects of theft, but simply throwing offenders in jail was not keeping businesses safe from crime in the long run.