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For First Offense Shoplifting, Education-Based Programs Might Provide Value

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Caroline Kochman is executive director of the National Association of Shoplifting Prevention (NASP). She began her tenure with NASP in 1993 as director of court services where she played an integral role in the development and distribution of NASP’s court- ordered prevention programs. NASP now works with all stakeholders in the shoplifting problem providing its educational solutions at all levels from individual offenders to retail victims to the criminal justice system.

What’s the value of education-based programs, and how do they work?

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Education-based programs offering offense-specific, age-appropriate programming for shoplifting offenders are proven to reduce repeat offenses, which is not only the imperative of the criminal justice system but also the goal of the retailers as the victims.

Moreover, education will reduce recidivism regardless of where in the offender process it is provided. Whether immediately upon apprehension as part of a police or prosecutor pretrial diversion program, or as a formal sanction of the court, education is the key. At what point in the process it happens is not relevant, only that it in fact happens and is a proven-effective and offense-specific program.

Traditionally the court system provides sanctions for offenders, but it’s very expensive to process offenders through the system, often costing $2,000 to $3,000 per offender. Even then, there’s no guarantee that education will be part of the resulting sanctions. Pretrial diversion programs provide an alternative to the formal court trial process but consume significant police and prosecutor resources and still don’t guarantee education as a sanction.

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If the mutual goal is to conserve police, court, and criminal justice resources, to hold offenders accountable, and to build the competency to make better choices, then it’s not about when or who provides the education, just that it’s provided and that the offender successfully completes the program.

Why should retailers embrace these programs to address first offense shoplifting (or offense-specific shoplifting) incidents?

With the lack of resources in the criminal justice system, retailers can no longer rely on the traditional process to accomplish their goals—the most vital of which is to reduce recidivism. This isn’t an indictment of the court system, but simply the current state of affairs.

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Since retailers are most directly affected by retail theft, they simply cannot afford to be ineffective at changing behaviors to reduce recidivism. Nontraditional, retailer-led, pre-arrest programs have the same goals and accomplish the same thing as traditional programs, only faster, cheaper, and with better outcomes for all involved. They provide the offender an opportunity to avoid being arrested, entering the criminal justice system, and ultimately having a criminal record that can have devastating, life-long consequences.

How do you respond to claims that these programs “violate California’s extortion and false imprisonment laws?”

The ruling in California was very clearly about one particular program’s process and not necessarily about the value or even the validity of this type of program to the offender or the community.

These programs are designed to give the offender a choice. Even traditional diversion programs in the court system provide a choice for offenders. In both cases, offenders can choose to participate in the educational option and live up to its requirements or to follow the traditional path through the formal court system and accept the sanctions and consequences.

The key is using a properly modeled program executed in partnership with local criminal justice that has policies and processes to protect the offender’s choice—as well as the interests of all stakeholders. Especially in a nontraditional program, it’s critical that every stakeholder, including the offender, invests effort and reaps benefits in equal measure. This is the key to a successful and sustainable program.

To read more about the measures of success for such programming, as well as potential benefits to individuals caught in their first offense shoplifting, check out the full article at “The Win-Win of Retailer-Led Offender Rehabilitation,” which was originally published in 2017. This excerpt was updated June 27, 2018.

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