June 6, 2018
By Rory Geoghegan
Heroin and crack cocaine, along with the recent explosion in New Psychoactive Substances, are not only blighting communities but drive as much as 50 per cent of all acquisitive crime, and 70 per cent of shop thefts. 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. In 2017, we estimate shop theft cost £6.3bn – equivalent to £270 for every household in the country – and more than the average household’s monthly grocery shop. At the same time, offenders with 36 or more previous convictions or cautions are responsible for an increasing proportion of theft offences dealt with by the criminal justice system – growing from 39 percent in 2010 to more than 60 per cent last year. Over the same period, the even more prolific cohort of offenders, with more than 60 previous convictions, has doubled. At the root of this problem is a complete failure to tackle the addictions that fuel the bulk of theft, with offenders 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. It is a broken system that demands fixing and this paper proposes a new sentencing option that would simultaneously offer the offenders a chance of long term recovery, while providing the victims of crime with respite.
Our proposals for a new intensive Second Chance Programme would see up to £250 million invested over five years, targeting up to 10,000 of the most prolific drug-addicted offenders. It uses shop theft as the trigger for tackling and reducing other more serious offending, such as burglary, and allows for 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. Assuming a modest 10 per cent reduction in the discounted lifetime social and economic costs associated with problematic Class A drug use, this combined investment of £250 million over five years could see savings of between £500 million and £1 billion in discounted lifetime costs. With business crimes, like shop theft, accounting for more than 25 per cent of crime, we also make a number of recommendations that would both support the successful targeting and delivery of the Second Chance Programme and help tackle shop theft and related crimes.