Think shoplifting is a relatively modern crime? Think again.

It was way back in London about the time the Pilgrims were making their plans to sail to faraway shores that shoplifting became a crime. In 1699, the British Shoplifting Act defined shoplifting as a capital crime. Little changed for the next few hundred years. Even at the beginning of the nineteenth century in England, most crimes were considered felonies, for which the punishment was execution. In Charles Dickens’ novel Barnaby Rudge, the author alludes to the fact that shoplifting something that was worth five shillings or more was punishable by death. In 1816, British lawmakers attempted to do away with the death penalty for shoplifting, citing the case of George Barrett, who was only ten years old and under sentence of death for a petty shoplifting offense. Unfortunately, the bill was defeated and young Mr. Barrett and other shoplifters continued to be executed or, if they were lucky, transported to penal colonies in Australia. By 1822, attitudes had changed, and William Reading was the last person to be hanged for shoplifting in England. Shoplifting ceased to be a capital crime in England in 1832.

Who is Most Likely to Shoplift

Historically, unlike DUI females were more likely to shoplift, and that fact hadn’t changed much until the 1980’s. Recent data suggests that both sexes are equally likely to shoplift, and it is common amongst all races and classes. It also appears that shoplifting is more likely to be carried out between 3 and 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

What Do Shoplifters Steal

The 2002 National Retail Security Survey reported that an estimated 33.21 billion dollars per year of goods were stolen from large and small stores. Cigarettes used to be the most commonly shoplifted item –- hence the change from cigarettes being stored on open shelves to behind the cash register. Apart from the obvious items you’d expect to be stolen, small electronics, such as Ipods, CDs and clothes, books are also frequently stolen. According to research carried out by Publisher’s Weekly in 2011, the favourite author of shoplifters is Charles Bukowski. Next up is Anything by William S. Burroughs, then On the Road by Jack Kerouac. The common denominator of all these books is sex and drugs. Perhaps then, it is sex starved (or sated) drug users that like to read a reflection of their own lives. On the other hand, it might just be the geeky types that would rather read about it, than try it out for themselves. All of which just goes to show that there probably is no stereotypical shoplifter. Each to his, or her own, as the saying goes.

Punishment for Shoplifting in Massachusetts

Not all shoplifters are caught and of those that are, not all are prosecuted. Punishments for shoplifting vary, but in Massachusetts, you can be fined up to $250 for a first offense and $500 for a second offense. For a third offense, you could face serious jail time. On top of all that, you will have a criminal conviction on your record and you will have to get criminal lawyer. What’s worse, if you are not a U.S. citizen, you could be deported, and if you are a student, it could also affect your student loans and future job prospects.