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Drugs, Female Offenders and Young People
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Drugs, Female Offenders and Young People

This is a massive topic so here are a few pointers.


Retailers believe that around 50% of drug offences are drugs-related (either to get money for drugs or 'high on drugs'). Boreham et al, 2007; BRC, 2008)

Heavy drug users are amongst the most prolific offenders. Crack cocaine and opiate users are more likely to be shoplifting in your local Pricerite than robbing banks.

A study of arrestees in 2005 confirmed that stealing from shops was the most frequent crime amongst drug users, with 29% of arrestees having stolen at least once from a shop in the previous 12 months (Bennett, 2005).

Alcohol is also an important factor in shoplifting.

The average weekly expenditure on drugs by the arrestee drug users was £129. Those using heroin and crack had spent £308 in the last week. These users spent an average of £16000 pa on heroin or crack and in some areas £20,000. They needed to generate an average illegal income of £5,000; heroin and crack users generated £13,000. The amounts stolen to fund the average drug user were £15,000-£35,000 each, and for heroin or crack users were £40,000-£110,000 every year.


One problem is the shortage of drug treatment facilities. 9% of Bennett's sample were currently receiving treatment for drugs (but still offended). 21% had received treatment for drugs at some time in the past and a further 20% of addicts said they would like to receive treatment.


It is difficult to know whether the inability of courts to base their decisions on an individual's offending over time and the feeling of the Sentencing Guidelines Panel that drug abuse should be seen as a mitigating factor has affected the sentences given to drug-using shoplifters.

(Source: Bennett, T. (2005) Drugs and Crime: The Effects of the Developmental Stage of the NEW-ADAM Programme, Home Office Research Study 205, London: Research, Development and Statistics Unit, Home Office.
Boreham, R. Cronberg, A., Dollin, L., Pudney, S. (2007) 'The Arrestee Survey 2003-2006', 12/07, Home Office Statistical Bulletin, London: Home Office.
BRC (2008) Retail Crime Survey 2007-08, London: British Retail Consortium.


Although shoplifting is seen as a predominantly female crime, only around 42% of apprehended shoplifters were female. Similarly, although the great majority of retail staff is female, males were three times more likely to be apprehended for stealing from their employer.

Both media fantasy and crime reality gives support to the notion of categories of female shoplifters including: Glamorous Female thief; Menopausal Women; Irrepressible Teenager who needs a slap; Woman Druggie; and Life problems/Mood repair thief who writes in the Daily Telegraph about the joys of shoplifting. However the standard female shoplifter is more likely to be doing this as a fairly routine activity rather than because she cannot cope. But for police, social services and the courts, female shoplifting is more likely to be seen as a 'cry for help' or as an indicator of personal distress than it is with males.

Young People

Young people can be prolific thieves. They can go into shops unhindered and often are comparatively well off, given that they have no mortgages or children to look after. Surveys of school children usually find that up to 40% have stolen something at least once. A survey from Pendeford High School, Wolverhampton, found that 45.1% of offenders said they started stealing from shops between the ages 11 and 13.

The main reasons given in the Pendeford survey were economic (Lack of money 50%; Want the goods 40%), but social pressures (Bullied 32%; Peer pressure 25%) and psychological issues (Boredom 26%; Excitement 21%) were also important.

Obviously there are lots of problems about how you deal with juvenile offenders. The need for lots of teenage stuff has perhaps meant that they carry on stealing into their late teens, whilst 30 years ago most would have stopped after either a bad fright or about the age of 14-15 years. The amount of privacy allowed to juveniles now, including their bedrooms, also makes it hard for parents to monitor misbehaviour of this kind.* Harsh penal sanctions would be inappropriate for most juvenile offenders, but this often means that a small minority can continue to steal large amounts without apparent sanction. It is obviously important to identify and deal with prolific juvenile offenders before they become hardened criminals. This probably means a varied approach including diversion schemes, civil recovery, restorative justice etc and better information exchange between retailers and the police to ensure they keep out of trouble.

(* Yes, I know, it is my age speaking there. But when I was a juvenile, children actually had very little personal property, and it would have been difficult to steal say a large number of records, clothes, watches, jewellery, personal radios, pens books etc without searching questions being asked.)

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