Retail Theft Package: Punishing Criminals & Protecting Businesses

Shoplifting is on the rise. In response, new legislation that cracks down on retail theft in Alabama will be introduced in the legislature’s 2023 session.

To the Point: The Retail Theft Package legislation will reintroduce the possibility of prison time for offenders, address store owner liability issues and move certain retail theft crimes to district courts, all in an effort to better protect local retail businesses.

In 2015, the Alabama Legislature created a Class D felony that includes offenses such as possession of a controlled substance, possession or fraudulent use of a credit or debit card, and certain levels of theft. Unfortunately for retail businesses, this Class D felony allows offenders to steal up to $1,499 without the threat of jail time. Instead, the punishment is typically lax probation and the occasional fine. In the rare event the offender does go to jail, the sentence will almost always be served in a community correction facility with a duration of two years or less.

The Cost of Crime

Barry Matson

Without the threat of serious consequences, thieves are likely to become repeat offenders and increase their frequency of theft, according to Barry Matson, Executive Director of the Alabama Office of Prosecution Services. “The incentive that jail is real has vaporized for the people that need that incentive the most,” he said.

As instances of retail theft increase, local retail businesses incur more expenses to accommodate for lost goods, to ramp up security and to cover higher insurance premiums, causing their overall cost of goods to rise. Price increases paired with the threat of shopping in an area racked by frequent criminal activity can deter local shoppers, which could lead to businesses letting employees go and ultimately shutting their doors. 

Daryl Bailey

Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey elaborated. “As a small business, $1,500 is a lot to absorb,” he said. “When you multiply that by however many criminals are coming in and stealing, it\’s why a lot of small businesses fail.” The ripple effect of vacant storefronts and more people without jobs can spread beyond individual retailers to negatively impact multiple other businesses, including property owners and landlords, IT consultants, insurance companies and any other business that provided services to these now-shuttered stores.

A Sensible Solution

Legislation called the Retail Theft Package will be presented when the regular session of the Alabama Legislature begins in March. First, it reintroduces the possibility of prison time for third degree theft of property. Bailey feels having the threat of prison in place will encourage offenders to take advantage of alternative programs such as the Pretrial Diversion Program, which has a 94-percent success rate in preventing recidivism. The package also addresses liability issues business owners face when apprehending shoplifters.

“That doesn\’t mean they\’re going to be convicted or go to jail, but [store owners] should be able to detain them so they can conduct the investigation at that time,” Matson said. The third major piece of this package addresses jurisdiction. Matson explained that city courts often only have part-time prosecutors and judges with no real jail facilities. They don’t have the resources to stay on top of case management. Bailey predicts taking some of these crimes out of municipal courts and putting them into district courts will make a real difference. He also stressed that local businesses’ support of the legislation is crucial. “Small businesses need to get behind this, because this package could mean whether or not a small business survives,” he said.

Small businesses are encouraged to reach out to the Alabama Retail Association as well as the District Attorney’s office to voice their thoughts on retail theft. Show support for the Retail Theft Package legislation by contacting your legislator and/or submitting op-eds to your local news outlets.

Retail Theft: By the Numbers

● $125.7 billion lost in economic activity and 658,375 fewer jobs in 2021 due to retail theft (Retail Industry Leaders Association).
● 56% of small retail businesses have been victims of shoplifting in the past year (U.S. Chamber of Commerce).
● 46% of small businesses have increased their prices over the past year due to shoplifting (U.S. Chamber of Commerce).

The Retail Theft Package is a component of the overall Central Crime Package that will also address the use and possession of firearms by violent criminals, the fentanyl crisis and more.