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In the face of substantial prison costs and strong support for non-prison dispositions for minor offenders, harsh sentences for petty thieves could only be justified if they managed to reduce petty thievery.

There does not appear to be support in this study for the contention that harsher petty theft sentences have the desired effect on shoplifting in the five largest states. In fact, the data supports the public’s view that scarce public resources ought not be wasted imprisoning shoplifters. California should abolish the petty theft with a prior” law, and use the $105 million more wisely.

Big Time for Petty Crime: The Story of Petty Theft Offenders in California