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Shoplifting Quota £49.99 per year

A report in today's Birmingham Mail indicates that if someone shoplifts less than £50 they will only get a caution if either it is the first offence during a year or otherwise the first offence.

This shows the problems with cautions. If we are serious about trying to get someone off an addiction for cocaine and/or heroin then we should be looking at treatment orders for possession. Cautions should only be used when it seems quite clear that the offender is unlikely to offend again.

With shoplifting we should be looking for some form of non-custodial sentance rather than merely saying it does not matter. The consequences of the current system is that there are thresholds below which "the system" does not care.

I do not hold either the CPS or the Police reponsible for this. This is driven by Home Office targets and guidelines. It is that which needs to change.


TonyF said…
And how many people re offend whilst on ' a non-custodial sentence' John?
john said…
There is no sense comparing recidivism rates for non-custodial and custodial sentences because the people selected vary.

I believe that the figures for non-custodial are lower.

The government do not have any information about cautions and the associated recidivism rate.

Still it remains that I think we as a society should not just ignore theft below £50.
Bob Piper said…
I would like to take this up with my MP. Which guidelines are you referring to?
john said…
It is a mixture of the Home Office Guidelines, but also the nature of the targets set for the CPS. I have a copy of the caution guidelines and all the figures are available as written answers see my entry on

I have a copy of the guidelines and could email it to you if you email me directly.
Richard Gadsden said…
As someone who was cautioned for shoplifting, let me say that it shook me up so much, I've never dreamed of doing it again.

Cautions work well on basically good middle-class kids who are testing the boundaries. How well they work on anyone else is another question that I have no experience to comment on.
Richard Allen said…
As someone who works in retail management I would say that most shoplifters can be broken down into four catergories each of which require a different approach.

Firstly there are kids messing about. As Richard Gadsden has already said a caustion is an appropriate and potentially effective form of punishment in such cases.

Secondly you have the people that no ever suspects such as the old woman who 'forgets' to pay for a few of the things that she put in her bag. These people are rarely detected and when they are they are not likely to be prosecuted as often this would lead to adverse publicity. Retailers also know that such people will invariably be too embarressed to ever return to where they were caught.

Thirdly you have the drug (mostly heroin) addicts who steal to pay for their addiction. The police tend to be more than happy to take strong action against these types (they often have a record) but the problem lies in detaining these people. They are often desperate and will go to extreme lengths to avoid being detained.

With these three groups there is little more that the police can really do. Where more is needed is with the fourth (and most costly) group. These are the professional shoplifters, the people who steal for a living. They make a rational calculation that they can make good money out of shoplifting and they know that the penalties for being caught are trivial. Considerably stronger action needs to be taken against these types.
TonyF said…
As a former Security Officer who had to cover such jobs as large stores, the present system of punishment for shoplifting is laughable. On catching a shoplifter, nine times out of ten They told US what they would get and basically laughed off cautions and fines. The answer is a custodial sentence and a name and shame system.
john said…
I think there is some agreement here. There are clearly people for whom a caution is appropriate. It is, however, important that cautions are not overused.
Bob Piper said…
I'm struggling to find this consensus you describe John. Richard doesn't think a custodial sentence is suitable, apart from habitual, professional shoplifters. TonyF sees a custodial sentence as the solution. You, on the other hand, as usual, just make some glib remark that blames the government and talk abstractly about "the system". At least Richard examines the category of shoplifter, not some arbitrary monetary value which excited your original post.
john said…
Richard Allen's analysis seems to be the best. It takes into account Tony Foley's position that there are too many cautions and Richard Gasden's position that there are some people who should be cautioned as they won't reoffend

In essence we should only allow one caution and only in situations where it is clear to the police that the offender will not reoffend.

Going back to the general situation about Heroin and Cocaine, I think that using a form of treatment order in place of a caution would be sensible.

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