Chap in the Crown Court yesterday for shoplifting £13-odd worth of groceries from a large supermarket. He’d pleaded not guilty and elected for a trial, as is his right, despite being clearly guilty — two members of staff saw him sticking the goods into a carrier, walking out past an un-manned till and making no attempt to pay, and leaving the store. He claimed he’d paid, though he had, of course, no receipt and no idea who he paid (‘a lady… can’t remember what she looked like’).
Turns out the chap is clearly suffering from some sort of psychiatric problems and he’s a thoroughgoing nuisance. He’s of no fixed abode — from choice, since he’s had several places in hostels arranged and just not turned up to take them — and has no income whatsoever. He’s spent most of the last five years in prison, serving short terms (a few months at a time) for shoplifting and minor assaults.
Unusually, neither drink nor drugs seem to be much of an issue — he just supports himself by shoplifting for a few weeks after his release from prison until he’s arrested again, is either refused bail or breaks his bail conditions by refusing to stay at a bail hostel, and eventually turns up in court. He’s obviously twigged that maintaining a not-guilty plea is his best policy, since remand prisoners enjoy various privileges denied to serving prisoners and, despite losing the discount for a guilty plea, the time he spends on remand means he’s out again in a few weeks anyway since there’s a limit to how long a court will give someone for stealing £10 or £20’s worth of groceries.
He’s now been warned that his sentences will go up each time he re-appears, but prison’s clearly no deterrent (he seems to prefer it to life outside, if anything) and I’ve got visions of him eventually being given 10 years for stealing a few pounds’ worth of stuff.
What do with such a person, though? It’s easy to say he needs help, but he clearly doesn’t want it. You can’t leave him wandering around helping himself from shops, but prison clearly isn’t doing much good. Probably is the only place for him, but it seems an awfully expensive solution.
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