Juveniles often participate in acts of delinquency. Some juveniles may only commit a single act, while others continue with their delinquent behavior. These acts can range from what are known as status offenses such as smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, to more serious offenses such as shoplifting, drug use, as well as other criminal acts. While one offense committed may be less severe than another in terms of punishment, all delinquent acts are harmful for both the juvenile as well as the community they are in. Shoplifting is one such act that will be the focus of this paper. Out of all offenses committed by juveniles, shoplifting is one of the most prevalent. This paper aims to explain the causes juveniles have for shoplifting and the harm shoplifting creates to both offender and community. It will also evaluate how the current juvenile justice system handles cases of shoplifting and touch on different ways to improve the current system to process and rehabilitate offenders in the system.
By definition, shoplifting is the criminal act of stealing goods from a shop while pretending to be a customer. The simple nature of shoplifting and the lack of skill necessary to commit the act make it enticing for juveniles. Shoplifting is a crime that has no personal requirements to be met, an offender of any age, race, or gender can commit to acts of shoplifting. In speaking about gender specifically, studies have shown that shoplifting has the smallest gender gap among juvenile offenses (Hirtenlehner, Blackwell, Leitgoeb, & Bacher, 2014).
One of the biggest problems with shoplifting is not just the crime itself, but the after affects it has concerning the victims; which can be both business and community. The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention state there are around 27 million shoplifters in the United States, around 25 percent of which are juveniles (Shoplifting Statistics, n.d.). That 25 percent averages to almost 7 million juvenile shoplifters in the United States. If each juvenile stole an item worth $1.00, that equates to almost $7 Million in profit loss for businesses each year. Not only does the “shrink rate” hurt business profit and subsequently potential employee salaries, it can cause businesses to raise prices on products to try and offset that initial loss. These are just a few of the ways that show how shoplifting does not hurt just the offender.
There are many reasons why a juvenile may shoplift at some point in their life. Among those reasons, the most popular is simple opportunity. While a juvenile walks through a store, they see something that they want and take it simply because it is there. If caught, the juvenile would have no explanation for their actions, stating they took it because they were able to do so. Another big reason juveniles shoplift is peer pressure. When a juvenile “hangs out” with other juveniles who shoplift, they are more likely to participate in the act in an effort to fit in or look cool.
Peer pressure is most exemplified by Thornberry’s Interactional Theory, which states, “Associations with delinquent peers and delinquent values make up social delinquency” (Bartollas & Miller, 2017). The battle of the haves and have-nots also present a perceived validity to shoplifting. This can tie directly into a juvenile’s socio-economic status. Poverty-stricken juveniles may shoplift not for thrill, but out of necessity. Those juveniles that steal out of necessity do so because they have no financial means to obtain the items they need.
The juvenile justice system has met with moderate success in deterring crime but a much lower success rate in rehabilitating offenders. Juvenile recidivism rates in Virginia are extremely high. Out of youth who were released from Virginia Juvenile Correctional Centers in 2012, 74 percent were re-convicted within three years of release (Durnan & Harvell, 2017). Other factors that are negatively impacting rehabilitation include the high costs associated with juvenile incarceration and the treatment needs of those juveniles, to include medical and mental health treatment. The silver lining to this is the lower incarceration rate for juveniles in Virginia. With the lower rate of incarceration among juveniles, correctional centers may be able to better accommodate the needs of offenders still under the system’s watch. No determination can be made concerning the effectiveness of providing compensation to victims of juvenile crime, as statistics on that particular issue are not kept.
Juvenile crime will not be eliminated anytime soon; still, there are several ways the juvenile justice system can improve how they process juveniles. The first recommendation I can make is to change the way juveniles are processed in the current system. This would entail modifying the sentencing of juveniles. This modification would mandate that first time offenders participate in community service as well as an outpatient counseling program to try and correct the malcontent behavior. This modification would also make the first-time offender ineligible for incarceration provided the crime committed would equate to a misdemeanor. Doing this will help alleviate the overburdening population of juvenile correctional centers and may cut down some of the time the juvenile spends in the court system. The second recommendation concerns recidivated juveniles in custodial care of the state.
Correctional facilities offer a variety of programs to participate in, such as one-on-one and group counseling as well as a continuing education program for those seeking an education or marketable job skills. Sadly, some youth offenders do not take advantage of these resources, making them more predisposed to recidivism. This recommendation would institute a “reward” based system for good behavior and proactive approach towards the youth’s future. While in custody, a juvenile may participate in educational classes in preparation to earn a high school diploma or GED, as well as participate in vocational studies to learn applicable skills for entry into the workforce. If an offender completes a specified amount of instruction and has exhibited good behavior throughout, they can be awarded by early release. This early release will also be contingent on their behavior and actions once they have re-integrated into the community.
This recommendation has a two-fold benefit to it. First, this will promote good habits and ethics in the juvenile to prepare them to become productive members of the community, and it will also help lessen the burden of population in correctional facilities. The final recommendation is one concerning juveniles in aftercare settings. In an attempt to reduce the chance of delinquent behavior, juveniles who have been released from correctional facilities will be mandated to participate in after-school or after-work activities. These activities will be a joint program between the juvenile justice system and the community the youths live in. These activities would take the form of volunteer programs where post-adjudicated youth can be supervised to ensure they do not recidivate. The main goal of these types of programs would be to keep the youth busy so they do not have enough time to commit acts of delinquency. The length of this program would be congruent with the amount of probation the offender has received, however, directors who have oversight may amend the amount of time as deemed necessary.
A majority of juveniles will commit a delinquent act at some point or other. Due to the relatively simple nature of shoplifting, it becomes an enticing crime for juveniles to commit. These acts will hurt not only the offender, but their community as well. There are several reasons why youths engage in acts of shoplifting, from opportunity to peer pressure and necessity. While recidivism rates may be extremely high, there are multiple options the juvenile justice system can take in order to improve recidivism rates and lessen the burden on the court systems.
- Bureau of Justice Statistics – Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2014 National Report
- U.S. Department of Justice – Strategies for Reducing Shoplifting in Retail Establishments
- Nafekh, M. A., Maynard-Moody, S., Chesney-Lind, M., &Jeffries IV, V. L.(2006). Racialized justice?: Shoplifting penalties in Chicago’s juvenile branch court
- Criminology I Research Foci – Shoplifting