Evaluation of an Individualized Treatment Program for Adolescent Shoplifters

Article excerpt

Property offenses represent a major portion of the juvenile crime problem. Youths charged with property offenses represent more than 40% of all juvenile arrests and approximately 50% of all delinquency cases referred to U.S. juvenile courts (Snyder, 2000). A recent analysis of approximately one million juvenile court records across nearly 2,000 jurisdictions (serving over 76% of the U.S. juvenile population) revealed that shoplifting was the most common juvenile court referral for youths under age 15, accounting for almost 25% of all property offense petitions (Sickmund, 2000).

While these statistics underscore the magnitude of the juvenile shoplifting problem, few jurisdictions have developed intervention programs that focus specifically on this group of adolescent offenders. This paper describes the effectiveness of one such program that provided individually designed treatment services to adolescent shoplifters.



Two hundred eighty-six juvenile shoplifters petitioned to a large, urban Michigan juvenile court participated in this study. They ranged in age from 9 to 18 years, with a mean age of 15.2 years. Fifty-six percent (n = 160) were male, and 44% (n = 126) were female. Eighty-five percent (n = 243) were Caucasian, 12% (n = 34) African-American, and 3% (n = 9) Hispanic. Ninety-eight percent (n = 280) were enrolled in school, with a mean grade level of 8.9. Two hundred twenty-eight of the school attendees were in regular classes, while 40 were in special education classes.

In terms of the youths' living arrangements, 47% (n = 134) lived with both biological parents, 28% (n = 80) lived with their biological mother, 4% (n = 12) lived with their biological father, 17% (n = 48) lived with a biological parent and a stepparent, and 4% (n = 12) lived with another relative. Eleven percent (n = 31) were only children, 38% (n = 109) had 1 sibling, 25% (n = 72) had 2 siblings, and 24% (n = 69) had from 3 to 13 siblings.

Forty-seven percent (n = 134) were from households with annual incomes of more than $30,000. Thirty-eight percent (n = 109) were from households earning between $15,000 and $30,000 per year. Fifteen percent (n = 43) were from families with annual incomes of less than $15,000.

Twenty-two percent (n = 63) reported using alcohol or drugs (e.g., cocaine, marijuana) on a regular basis, while 78% (n = 223) reported minimal or no use of such substances. Thirty-four percent (n = 97) reported that at least one other family member regularly used alcohol or drugs, and 66% (n = 189) reported minimal or no use of alcohol or drugs by other family members.

Eight percent (n = 23) reported previous juvenile court involvement, while 20% (n = 57) reported that another family member had either a criminal or juvenile court record. Six percent (n = 17) reported previous involvement in the court's youth assistance program.

The total value of the merchandise stolen ranged from less than $5.00 for 14% (n = 40) of the youths, and between $50.00 and $99.00 for 22% (n = 63). Fifty-eight percent (n = 166) took merchandise valued between $5.00 and $50.00. The number of items stolen ranged from 1 to 32. Over 90% (n = 260) of the youths were apprehended with 6 or fewer stolen items. Twenty-three percent (n = 66) reported shoplifting on at least one previous occasion. Forty-nine percent (n = 141) had enough money with them at the time of their apprehension to purchase the item or items they had taken.

These 286 juveniles were randomly assigned to either a treatment group (n = 143) or a control group (n = 143). There were no significant differences (according to t tests) between the treatment and control groups on any of the variables described above.

Treatment Plans

Youths in both groups were referred to the court's youth assistance program. In this ongoing diversion program, youth assistance workers (i.e., professional juvenile court probation officers) routinely supervise youngsters and/or refer them to various community-based treatment services as an alternative to formal juvenile court processing. …