Sounds sensible to me. I can't see that the general public needs 'protecting' from a serious and imminent threat from shoplifters, and prison is more effective at turning shoplifters into burglars or multi-functional criminals than into 'reformed characters'.
I caught a 5-minute snatch of Radio Five Live's phone-in on the subject, which was, unfortunately, bombarded by the hang-'em-flog-'em brigade. One sentiment was "A criminal is a criminal, full stop" - as if serial murder and dropping litter are the same thing. Another was that Daily Mail chestnut, "Prisons are like holiday camps" - usually uttered by people who have never been near one. (I could be persuaded that some holiday camps are like prisons, but that's another subject.)
A phone-in discussing what to do with people who rob shops did not, sadly, discuss what to do with shops that rob people. And all the discussion focused on the poor, hard-working corner shop owner having his/her livelihood endangered rather than Big Mr Tesco, who recuperates in profit in about ten seconds what he loses to shoplifters each year. (That's a guess, and possibly a caricature, by the way - feel free to post the correct arithmetic below.)
Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that fact that most shoplifters are, apparently, people with drug problems. One of Radio Five's studio guests was a former drug user who used to shoplift, bringing a welcome perspective to the discussion, even forcing some callers to rethink their 'hardline' attitudes. (Not all though: one bloke had "no sympathy": charming!).
One caller claimed that people with drug problems should get help rather than nick from shops. Indeed they should. But this caller obviously had a rose-tinted view of the availability of help to drug users. A few years back, we had a problem with a crack house on our estate, and wanted to arrange help for people who wanted to get out of a downward spiral of drug abuse. Could we get any help? Not a sausage.
I spent about three weeks ringing every drugs-help agency in the phone book. Some had closed down. Those who did answer did not do outreach work because it was too dangerous or they didn't have the resources. Ringing the local council was a joke. I asked the National Drugs Helpline if they produced stickers with their phone number on that we could put around the estate. No.
But it's OK, many of them said, because the police offer counselling to anyone they arrest for drug use. Right. I'm just guessing, but isn't the moment after you've had your collar felt and been thrown in a van/cell probably the time that you are least likely to accept help?! Oh, and how about helping people before they get into trouble with the law ...