In a report for King’s College London, Professor Rod Morgan criticised the government’s widening summary powers such as cautions and on-the-spot fines.
“There is a good deal of anecdotal evidence that behaviour, particularly that of children and young people, is being criminalised, which arguably would be better dealt with informally,” he said.
The accusation was backed by the Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve, who said that the government was “pursuing easy targets instead of going after the real criminals”.
However, store owners do not believe that offences such as shoplifting should be taken lightly. Bob Gibson, who owns a Premier store in Basingstoke, Hants, believes the authorities are too lenient. “With shoplifting we usually phone the police, but very often they don’t turn up for days, if at all,” he said.
“Children usually get a visit to their parents by the police, who deliver a letter that bans them from my store. I have never had a case where the police have taken a child to court.
“I think the police should take tougher action on criminals who can make our lives a misery with shop raids and anti-social behaviour, and that any sort of criminal offence should stay on your record for life.”
Steve Bassett of Londis Weymouth, Dorset, believes that all crimes should go on record, but does offer an alternative. “Perhaps the record should be on an American ‘three strikes and you’re out’ basis, and that on a third shoplifting offence the person receives a criminal record and perhaps a week in detention.
“In the same way as totting up points on a driving licence – after maybe 10 years the incident could then be erased from your record.”