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Retailers in Birmingham saved around £800,000 last year, thanks to a scheme designed to prevent and tackle prolific shoplifting. 

The Offender to Rehab initiative, which is funded by the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, aims to make sure people who are stealing to fund an addiction are treated in a rehab facility. 

The PCC, Simon Foster, backs the police programme because it focuses on the underlying causes of crime, with a view to preventing crime happening in the first place.

Relatively short stints in prison, for people who are stealing to pay for class A drugs, is known to be relatively ineffective at breaking the cycle of crime and many offenders return to shoplifting once they’re released.

The PCC funds the initiative using money seized from criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and retailers and the probation service are also investing in the programme.

The principle is simple; chasing, arresting and imprisoning shoplifters who are stealing to feed an addiction is time consuming for the police, expensive for the taxpayer and rarely solves the underlying causes of the crime, with the inevitable outcome that when people are released from prison, the whole process just ends up happening all over again.

Instead, under the Offender to Rehab programme, people with substance misuse issues are identified and referred to residential rehab facilities. Once their addiction is treated, they are highly likely to stop stealing.

According to the latest report, between July 2021 and July 2022 the Birmingham wide initiative saved retailers in the region of £800,000, after 27 prolific shoplifters were admitted to residential rehab and stopped stealing to feed their addiction.

The Offender to Rehab initiative has been recognised nationally for its achievements and recently won a Howard League for Penal Reform award

It is estimated, someone addicted to both heroin and crack spends around £19,000 a year on drugs. Much of this is funded by shoplifting, but stolen goods sell for between a third and half of their shop retail value, meaning a heroin addict would have to steal up to £57,000 worth of goods, to fund a drug addiction.

“I’m very pleased to hear that the Offender to Rehab initiative is proving to be such a success,” said West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, Simon Foster. 

“It is an innovative scheme, pioneered by West Midlands Police officer Stuart Toogood, that is proving very successful.

“The scheme is cutting crime and saving hundreds of thousands of pounds every year.

“Whilst we have focussed on Birmingham so far, I would like to see it rolled out across the entire region and potentially across the country.”

A 2014 report from Public Health England, estimated that every pound spent on drug treatment saves £2.50 in costs to society.

Chief Superintendent, Matt Shaer, from West Midlands Police said: “The impact of the Offender To Rehab programme is deeply impressive.

“Having had the privilege to meet providers and attendees first hand, it really has brought home the difference this innovative approach makes. I believe other localities would similarly benefit.”

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