The Win-Win of Retailer-Led Offender Rehabilitation

Caroline Kochman
Caroline Kochman

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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?

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.

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?

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.

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 an 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.

Do you have any hard facts that show these programs actually work?

For example, the recidivism studies are the only proof of effectiveness of any legitimate criminal justice program. Independent studies, as opposed to self-conducted evaluations, are the best proof of the effectiveness of a program. However, while recidivism rates—the rates at which offenders are involved in repeat offenses—are a vital measure of a program’s success, they are often misrepresented. Recidivism studies are tricky, and their inevitable limitations must be recognized. For example, the criminal justice system doesn’t share case information across jurisdictions, and thus each study can only record reoffenses within the same jurisdiction. So even lengthy studies are limited in scope. Make sure you know the limitation and scope of any study cited.

What is the potential benefit to the shoplifter involved in a retailer-led program?

Reduced recidivism benefits all stakeholders—including the offender. Ongoing involvement in shoplifting is no better for the offender than it is for the store or the community. Each offender benefits from a one-time opportunity to avoid a permanent criminal record if they wish to take responsibility for their actions, make reparation to the store, and participate in an appropriate education program.

How do retailer-led diversion-style programs benefit the public sector?

The Crime Accountability Partnership Program has already reduced retailer calls to police by up to 60 percent in hundreds of jurisdictions across the country, saving $100 million in criminal justice resources based on the average cost to process an offender through the traditional criminal justice system. In any community where these programs are in place, police not only benefit from the reduced calls but also gain the advantage of knowing that when a participating retailer does call for a police response, it’s because they have an offender who requires police-level intervention for the safety of the store, the offender, and the community.

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