Walmart’s “Restorative Justice” Program for Shoplifters

business_ethics_highlights_2Criminal justice meets corporate social responsibility in Walmart’s newest effort to combat shoplifting. Walmart’s “Restorative Justice” program gives some shoplifters an alternative to being turned over to the criminal justice system—taking instead an online course to learn about the costs borne by retailers and offenders from shoplifting. This helps the shoplifter avoid a criminal record and holds out the prospect of making the shoplifter a friend of Walmart instead of an enemy. Some complain that the cost of the course (borne by the shoplifter) is excessive and that at least one Walmart contractor offering the program has been heavy-handed in its treatment of enrollees. This piece could be used to introduce a discussion about the intersection of CSR and criminal justice, about how the costs of handling or preventing theft ought to be apportioned between private firms and public agencies (one part of the article explores how Walmart’s lean-staffing model leaves its stores more vulnerable to shoplifting, making its stores magnets for police calls), or about whether this effort “counts” as a CSR initiative. >>>

LINK: Low Prices, High Crime: Inside Walmart’s Plan to Crack Down on Shoplifting (by Josh Sanburn for Time)

To combat crime and ease the burden on law enforcement, Walmart has begun a novel experiment: deal with shoplifters internally by meting out its own version of law and order through an initiative called “Restorative Justice.” The idea is to give some accused shoplifters, such as first-time offenders, the option of completing an online remedial program designed to deter through education, rather than jail time.

The program, which offenders must pay an undisclosed sum to take but doesn’t involve the police, employs an approach sometimes found in schools and prisons, which emphasizes rehabilitation and reconciliation between the offender and the community. Walmart spokesperson Brian Nick says the initiative is reducing police runs requiring officers to come to Walmart and “hopefully giving people a second chance.”

There are some signs of its success. The Arlington Police Department, for example, estimates that the program has reduced police calls to local Walmart stores by 40.5% from October 2015 to June 2016. But it also raises questions about whether the nation’s largest retailer should play judge and jury within its stores. One of the companies hired by Walmart to administer the courses—Corrective Education Company—is currently being sued for false imprisonment and overcharging alleged shoplifters.

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