With petty theft on the rise, the City and Borough of Juneau are trying something new -- a therapy-based approach to try to curb crime.

Frequent shoplifting has some store owners on edge — to the point where they’re creating new policies about wearing hoods in the stores, so clerks can recognize the faces of repeat offenders. 

"It goes in spurts where it’s kind of like when it rains it pours," said Brandon Thibodeau has had his share of shoplifting. "Hard liquor, that’s primarily what it is."

Thibodeau's family owns four stores around Juneau and has to come up with new ways to deter thieves since Senate Bill 91 eliminated jail time for lower level crime: mirrors, a new "no hood" policy, and even a wall of shame.

Thibodeau isn’t the only target in town. 

"Shoplifting is a bigger problem this year than it’s ever been in Juneau. We can see that from the experiences that our, well, many of our retailers are having," said Brian Holst, executive director of the Juneau Economic Development Council. 

"What’s clear is that these people that are shoplifting understand the laws, and recognize that they can get away with more now than they used to be able to," Holst added. 

That’s where the city’s new pilot program comes in.

Since the state softened sentencing, the City and Borough of Juneau are trying its own alternative — partnering with a re-entry program and the Juneau Alliance for Mental Health, Inc. (JAMHI) to set-up case management, a series of motivational interviews, and an eight-hour course, to address the root cause of shoplifting.

"There’s a lot of reasons why. Some people actually need what they’re getting and some people don’t really need it. They’re going to use it to sell to get the money because they actually need the money and for some people, it’s the thrill, there’s this adrenaline rush," explained Rachel Gearhart, clinical director for JAMHI. "And so getting at what’s that reason so we can kind of fix that reason."

Whatever the reason, the goal is to give them a reason to stop stealing in stores and put their lives on a better track.

"I think we’re optimistic, hopeful that at least we’ll learn from it," Holst said of the idea. 

"Every little bit helps, but I would say that the majority of the people who steal from us, I don’t feel like they have a mental health problem, it’s more about probably addiction and monetary issues," said Thibodeau.

Whether the new approach actually works, both retailers and the city agree the status quo does not.

The one-year program, known as the Juneau Avert Chronic Shoplifting Pilot Project, hasn’t started yet — the goal is to get a first class going by next month.

The project is funded by a $67,000 federal grant.

The City's attorney, Amy Mead, said she doesn’t know how successful the program will be, but in any case, she says it will serve as a data point to help shape decisions about criminal justice moving forward.

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