'Shoplifting not worth jail time'

January 23, 2012, 5:22 PM GMT+0

Britons split over seriousness of shoplifting versus other theft, but just 11% would jail shoplifters

Britons are split on the severity of shoplifting as a means of theft, with half saying that they believe shoplifting from a retail establishment is not as serious as other forms of theft such as burglary or mugging, our survey has found. The results also show that the majority would limit the punishment for shoplifting to a fine or community service, with only 1 in 10 people saying the crime deserves a jail sentence.

  • 50% believe shoplifting is a 'less serious crime' than other forms of theft such as burglary or mugging
  • While 45% believe shoplifting is just as serious
  • 30% feel that a fine is a suitable punishment for shoplifting, and 30% feel that community service would be sufficient
  • Only 11% feel that it would be reasonable to punish shoplifters with a jail sentence
  • 23% believe a written warning or caution would be sufficient punishment

'Exercising control'

Our findings suggest that the older generation of over 40s believe in harsher punishment, with 12% of those aged 40 to 59, and 12% of the over 60s saying they feel jail time is suitable, compared to only 4% of 18-24 year olds who agree.

Motivations for shoplifting have been explored in the news recently after well-known chef Antony Worrall Thompson apologised for shoplifting from a supermarket, despite being able to afford to pay. A BBC article on the topic reported that 'in these cases, shoplifting is rarely about genuinely needing the item that is stolen. It is often about seizing the opportunity to momentarily exercise control when the perception is one of powerlessness.'

Similarly, research by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) last year found that thefts by retail customers soared as a result of the recession, with figures raised by a third during 2009 to 3,902 per 100 outlets, compared with 2,914 the previous year.

Punishment for shoplifting reportedly depends on the severity of the offence, and can vary from a fine to a police caution, to a ban from the shop concerned, or even jail time for repeat offenders.

See the survey details and full results here