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WSJ Article Provides a Rallying Cry for the Retail Industry

Since 1989, the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP) has been working to raise public awareness about the shoplifting problem and engage retailers, criminal justice and communities in constructive solutions to reduce the number of people who become involved in shoplifting. As such, the organization has recently released a statement expressing disappointment in the story told in the Wall Street Journal’s article entitled “Walmart Suspends a Controversial Shoplifting Punishment.” Unfortunately, according to NASP, the “incomplete” article highlighted the opinions of the few vocal criminal justice opponents to this program, rather than highlighting both sides of the issue, the need for such innovation, and the depth of the shoplifting problem retailers face.

According to NASP, the WSJ mentioned neither the shortcomings of the criminal justice system that created the need for this type of program nor the fact that police departments and communities continue to villianize and even fine retailers for seeking support from criminal justice instead of recognizing that they are the victims of crime. NASP reports that its representatives carefully highlighted all of these angles in lengthy conversations with the author. The organization believes that selective editing of the complete story led to a misrepresentation of the shoplifting issue and the work of the pioneering retailers seeking to offer educational alternatives to people stopped for shoplifting.

Another dilemma that the article reportedly fails to address is that it is neither possible nor reasonable to apprehend and arrest our way out of this problem, nor is it wise or responsible to decriminalize shoplifting, either outright or de facto, according to NASP. Therefore, the important story is not about whether “privatizing criminal justice” is okay or not. It is about the much larger issue of finding a way to both effectively and holistically address ongoing retail crime inflation and the gaps left by static or even shrinking criminal justice resources in communities.

University of Chicago Law Professor John Rappaport, in his recent working paper entitled Criminal Justice, Inc., reviewed the California ruling against one company and the current state of what he termed “retail justice.” After arguing both sides of the issue, Rappaport concluded, “Rather than cancel the private justice experiment, therefore, as one court is poised to do, the state should aim to foster optimal conditions for its success.”

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It is NASP’s belief that this observation should serve as the retail industry’s rallying cry for the creation of universal standards for this type of partnership—so much so that NASP is organizing the effort to set these standards and gathering the retail, academic and legal experts needed to begin this conversation and steer it down the right path, to ensure that all such programs comport with the law and are a benefit to offenders, communities, criminal justice and retailers alike.

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