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Desperate for a Fix

Instead of a ‘broken system’, thousands of the most prolific drug-addicted offenders should go on a ‘Second Chance Programme’ that uses shop theft as the trigger for tackling and reducing other more serious offending, such as burglary, according to a report by the think-tank the Centre for Social Justice.

It says that ‘that getting the response to shop theft right has benefits to crime reduction and public safety’. It calls for ‘reinvigorating approaches to  tackle the underlying causes of offending in the lives of individual offenders’; a ‘place-based approach to help clean up specific estates or towns blighted with crime and anti-social behaviour linked to prolific drug-addicted offenders’; and for ‘problem-solving courts, making use of judicial monitoring to focus and drive improved outcomes in relation to the prolific drug-addicted cohort’.

Heroin and crack cocaine, with the recent explosion in New Psychoactive Substances, are not only blighting communities but drive as much as half of all acquisitive crime, and 70 per cent of shop thefts, according to the CSJ report.

It claims that ‘offenders are ‘cycling through a criminal justice system that offers fines, community sentences, short prison sentences and threats, but nothing compelling in the way of true rehabilitation’. Offenders that do get detected find themselves processed through a largely unthinking system, the report says. “Innovations and improvements often being blocked by those who cite a “lack of evidence”, even as the largely unevidenced machine continues to push on, untested and largely unchallenged. For offenders and their families, the system appears to prosper – police, legal representatives, prosecutors, judges, probation staff, and prison officers all get paid – but with near-certainty, defendants remain addicted, often poorly-educated, unemployed, or otherwise in poverty.”

As for what such a scheme would cost, the report says: “Assuming a modest ten per cent reduction in the discounted lifetime social and economic costs associated with problematic Class A drug use, this combined investment of £250m over five years could see savings of between £500m and £1 billion in discounted lifetime costs.”

Police recorded shop theft topped 385,000 offences last year, but the true figure, based on Home Office assumptions, is closer to 38 million offences, the CSJ says. The CSJ estimated shop theft in 2017 cost £6.3 billion – equivalent to £270 for every household in the country, and more than the average household’s monthly grocery shop. The report suggests that the police’s new National Business Crime Centre should co-ordinate work on what a  ‘good response’ looks like to crime against business, and what constitutes ‘good reporting’ from businesses and victims more generally.

The report wants so-called low-level crime such as shoplifting taken more seriously, to get at the causes of offending; for example arguing that statements taken by police from victims of, and witnesses to, shop theft and related “low level” offending should always explain and accurately describe whether any force was used or threatened.

The report points to failure in getting drug misusing individuals into treatment, and how court fines and Penalty Notices for Disorder do nothing to tackle the root causes of crime; as the penalties either go unpaid or are paid for through further offending. The report ha strong words about prisons, calling them ‘shamefully awash with drugs’ and ‘now dominated by the very things we seek to tackle and combat in society: violence, intimidation, exploitation, social regression, and worklessness’. “The uncomfortable truth is that prison – for all its many shortcomings – is the only tool left in the box for many sentencers, delivering as it does at least the prospect of respite for victims for the duration of the sentence.”

For the 71-page report visit the CSJ website:


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