Startup Offers Shoplifters An Easier Way Out

Whole Foods
  • Article by Amy Bradney-George
  • March 10, 2015 at 3:31 PM

Shoplifting penalties range from fines to arrests, charges, criminal records and even jail in some cases. But what if there was a way to pay for the crime without involving the law?

It is this idea that inspired the development of US startup CEC, or “Corrective Education Company”. Seeing holes in the current approach to shoplifting in the US, CEC developed a system that offers thieves an option outside of the law.

Instead of dealing with the police and official charges, shoplifters are given the option of paying US$320 (around AUD$418) to do an online course designed to make them never want to steal again. In exchange for this payment, they also get to leave the store without ever dealing with the police or worrying about further questions being asked.

The CEC website says it works with all parties involved in the current system, as well as security firms, to provide “a successful, equitable and more efficient alternative to judicial prosecution”.

“CEC understands the challenges facing retailers, courts, prosecutors and law enforcement agencies due to retail theft,” it says.

“Our education programs and proprietary incident intake and management system ensure that retailers receive the restitution and justice they deserve while offenders recognize their mistakes and are given the support and tools they need to correct their mistakes and change the course of their lives.”

Since launching four years ago, the program has been taken up by some 20,000 Americans, with stores including Whole Foods, H&M and Bloomingdales participating in the CEC program. The company says recidivism has “dropped dramatically” and the response from retailers and law enforcement has also been largely positive.

“Sometimes good people can make bad choices,” CEC founder and CEO Darrell Huntsman says in a press statement.

“We believe we are offering a unique option to our clients that provides a more positive alternative to the traditional legal process, benefitting the retailer, the offender and the criminal justice system.”

The potential benefits of the program include giving retailers more time to focus on selling and serving customers (as opposed to filing theft and insurance papers); giving law enforcement agencies the ability to focus on more serious crimes and reducing the chances of overcrowded jails.

While there has been a lot of interest in the system in the US, there is also some scepticism around how effective it is – especially because it takes things outside of the legal system. In an interview with Slate, Brooklyn Defender Services attorney Susannah Karlsson says it is “a private company acting as prosecutor, judge, jury, and collector”.

“There’s no judicial oversight, there are no constitutional protections, there’s no due process,” she says.

So even though CEC has been successfully running across American for four years, there are still a few kinks to iron out – and probably some legal consulting to do – before it really goes mainstream.

Images: Customers in line at Whole Foods, source: David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons; “make sure you pay” sign outside a shop, source: Garry Knight.

Make Sure You Pay
Comments (1)
  • March 25, 2015 at 10:47 AM

    This actually makes a lot of sense to me.