Empowering Communities: Transformative Justice in Newark, NJ
April 4, 2024
Miranda Reyes

Retail safety encompasses far more than the protection of assets; comprehensive advocacy for retailers involves nurturing community well-being alongside protecting shelf products and personnel. However, resolving disruptions like petty theft and shoplifting, particularly in economically challenged areas plagued by high crime rates, demands a nuanced approach. 

The truth is, those who perpetrate these crimes are as much a part of the community as anyone else. In some cases, a thorough analysis of the incident, alongside the circumstances of the individual involved, may indicate they merit an opportunity for rehabilitation. 

ALTO substantially bolsters retailers’ capabilities in managing safety incidents that escalate to the judicial system, aiming to seek justice for the retailer victim, which isn’t always punitive. The following case study examines an incident at a national pharmacy chain situated in Newark, NJ, which led to legal proceedings. Here, the advocacy and significant comprehension of ALTO staff attorney Michael Stein would have a profound impact on the shoplifter’s life, creating a pivotal moment for transformation.

Newark’s Ongoing Battle

In Newark, New Jersey, the battle against crime and the recidivist cycle presents a formidable challenge. The city grapples incessantly with offenses like shoplifting and other forms of retail crime. One of the most densely populated urban centers in New Jersey, and boasting a significant population facing economic hardship, crime rates remain a persistent concern.

A particular Newark store owned by a national pharmacy chain, and part of the ALTO Alliance, faces ongoing challenges with shoplifting, despite implementing stringent security measures such as overnight guards and a generous amount of anti-shoplifting fixtures for high risk products. Situated conveniently near a train station, it has unfortunately been a frequent target for disruptive activity.

In June 2023, a repeat offender was caught shoplifting at the location. New Jersey native Michael Stein, ALTO’s staff attorney on the case, would later indicate that the individual may have been residing under nearby bridges. Law enforcement was quickly alerted after the incident, and the identified shoplifter was detained.

Advocating for a Rehabilitative Sentencing Approach

In court proceedings following the 2023 incident, Stein was present during hearings to represent the safety and interests of the store team. Considering the defendant’s background, Stein collaborated with the prosecutor to advocate for an alternative form of accountability – a rehabilitative community service program.

Newark Community Solutions is providing judges with alternative sentencing options for non-violent offenses, including shoplifting. The initiative aims to shift away from the traditional reliance on fines and short-term jail sentences, instead expanding the use of community service and social service mandates. Such innovative approaches are seen as a way to enhance procedural justice and build public trust in the judiciary system.

The court deemed the defendant eligible for participation in this program, mandated by the judge to include a series of counseling sessions. In addition to the sentencing, the judge ordered regular court appearances from the defendant alongside a Newark community service social worker to report on the defendant’s progress.

Stein consistently noted a significant improvement in the defendant’s wellbeing during subsequent hearings, and he did not incur any additional charges after entering the program.

A Turning Point For Second Chances

On March 13, 2024, the defendant appeared in court for his final hearing. Displaying a noticeably uplifted demeanor, the defendant had completed the community service program and mandated counseling sessions. At the time of the hearing, he was employed as a teacher’s assistant and shared his goal of advancing to a substitute teacher position in the next year. He expressed deep gratitude to the judge and involved parties. Taking his palpable transformation into account, the judge dismissed all charges related to the shoplifting incident nearly a year prior. 

Stein spoke at length with the judge, advocating for the retail client’s safety while extending good wishes to the defendant. In a short but impactful exchange with the defendant, he remarked, “We all fall down — it’s how we get back up again,” leading to a visibly emotional response from the defendant.

Finally, the judge addressed the courtroom, first announcing her plan to write a letter to the retailer, emphasizing the vital role of businesses in supporting community programs. She lauded the efforts of Stein in advocating for the defendant’s reintegration along with the retailer’s safety, emphasizing the significant impact on the defendant’s life and family.

Addressing the defendant, she expressed her staunch belief in the power of second chances, indicating him as exemplary of this. Moved by emotion, she remarked, “You are blessed.” Before adjourning, the judge stepped away from the bench to retrieve a tissue.

A National Network That Protects Retailers and Empowers Communities

ALTO’s last-mile solution not only addresses the immediate challenges of retail crime but also fosters a safer environment conducive to rehabilitation and positive change. Nearly 29% of legal cases handled by ALTO have resulted in alternative sentencing. When our nationwide legal experts advocate for the use of alternative sentencing such as drug treatment or mental health support, when suitable — in other terms, when we ensure that justice is not only punitive, but a pathway for an individual’s betterment — we succeed in protecting retailers and empowering communities at large, embodying our role as a people-centered solution. 

By analyzing recidivism patterns and integrating seamlessly with existing AP/LP strategies, ALTO has established itself as an essential ally in the fight against retail crime. Our efforts have not only mitigated immediate safety disruptions but have also contributed to shaping long-term solutions that address the root causes of crime. Connect with us today and learn how ALTO can transform your store safety, contribute to creating safer, empowered communities.