Amid any economic downturn, incidents of shoplifting seem to increase. People are desperate to put food on the table or provide for their families. Or, they try to obtain high-cost items in the hopes of being able to sell or return the goods in exchange for the financial resources they need to make ends meet.
Cracking down on shoplifting
As a result of ongoing shoplifting incidents, many retailers, including Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Lowe’s and Home Depot, have backed harsher penalties for those caught shoplifting. Retailers most want to crack down on two areas:
- repeat offenders
- organized shoplifting rings
After some shoplifting arrests, retailers have sent repeat offenders a no-trespass notice. If someone is caught shoplifting again after such notice, they could potentially face felony charges, in some circumstances.
Problems with increasing shoplifting penalties
However, the effort to make more shoplifting offenses felonies has come under scrutiny. Increased penalties for shoplifting likely would affect minorities disproportionately. In November, California voters rejected Proposition 20 by a fairly wide margin, 62 percent to 38 percent.
Prop. 20 would have allowed police to charge those accused of theft with felonies more often and institute harsher punishment for participating in organized retail theft rings. A theft of goods with a value of over $250 would have potentially been classifiable as a felony, which could have led to many more people facing serious criminal charges.
Many criminal defense attorneys have questioned if harsher penalties for shoplifting really are effective. Also, the National Justice Institute notes that harsher shoplifting penalties don’t really deter crime. Instead, research shows that shoplifters avoid reoffending more if they feel certain retailers will catch them. Often, those who shoplift repeatedly suffer mental health or addiction problems that going to prison won’t solve.