1.2 million people were caught shoplifting in 2013, according to the Annual Retail Theft Survey. When shoplifters are caught, the police are usually called – who may arrest the shoplifter or mandate a fine (the laws are different depending on the state).
Entrepreneurs at the Corrective Education Company (CEC) are trying to add a new alternative that benefits both shoplifters and stores. If a store catches someone stealing merchandise, they give the shoplifter a choice – either wait as the store calls the police or agree to sign up for a shoplifting education course administered by CEC.
The six-hour education course is designed to explain the costs of shoplifting and ensure that offenders will never steal again. Agreeing to take the course is often a smart decision for offenders, who might otherwise be taken to jail. Though the course also includes a $400 fee, over 20,000 offenders have already chosen to take the course rather than risk going to jail. CEC even offers scholarships to those who are unable to afford the $400 fee.
“There is a clear incentive for the low-risk offender to participate in the merchant program because the cost is generally much less than the court costs, fees, and fines an offender would pay if his or her case was handled through the criminal justice system,” said Grover Trask, an attorney in California.
Darrell Huntsman, Founder and CEO of Corrective Education Company, said the company provides better outcomes for both offenders and stores. “We’ve all been given a second chance,” he told Opportunity Lives. “CEC provides the opportunity for individuals to right a wrong without going through the judicial system.”
Stores like the alternative solution CEC provides because they can deal with shoplifters more quickly. The police often have slow response times (shoplifting is a minor offense) and giving offenders the option to sign up for the CEC course is less conspicuous than a police car with flashing lights. Implementing the CEC system saves stores time and money.
According to Huntsman, retailers can easily connect to the CEC network with a preloaded iPad that allows the signup process to be efficient and safe. The technology allows the store to archive witness statements, video footage, or other evidence to ensure organized reporting.
There are some objections to CEC’s business model. Leon Neyfakh at Slate talked to several attorneys that were worried the service might be coercive – that is, threatening people with legal action if they don’t participate.
But in a “frequently asked questions” document released by CEC, the executives stressed that the program is entirely voluntary. Offenders have several chances to change their minds throughout the process, and CEC will give them a full refund of the fee if they choose to submit to law enforcement instead of signing up for the course.
CEC’s system of “restorative justice” appeals to many in law enforcement as well, as the course reduces recidivism rates and frees up police officers to focus on more serious crimes.
CEC has a bright future, said Huntsman. “We’re continuing to seek ways that we can help retailers drive broader societal change by partnering with at-risk youth and reduce recidivism,” he said.