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One day, in 2011, Roman Ostriakov, a homeless Italian man, was desperately hungry. He went into a grocery store, and gathered a bare minimum of food: Sausage, cheese, and breadsticks, to hold him over. He approached the register, purchased the breadsticks with the money he could scrape together, and stuffed the packet of sausage and two pieces of cheese into his pockets.
A bystander told security, resulting in Ostriakov’s arrest. Four years later, in 2015, Ostriakov was sentenced to six months in jail, and ordered to pay a fine of approximately 100 Euros after attempting to steal only about 5 Euro worth of food.
It seems fairly obvious that this charge is outrageous. However, judicial law is not always logical–here in the U.S, the threat of facing life in prison for stealing a candy bar is very real.
However, Ostriakov’s case was appealed, and the case was rightfully overturned. The court wrote that “Stealing small quantities of food to satisfy a vital need for food did not constitute a crime.”
This ruling is not only historic, it puts a human face on petty theft and crime. Too often, we demonize people for merely attempting to survive in a context which has been made nearly impossible for them.
This instance raises questions about the ethics of imprisoning the hungry, poverty-stricken individuals who shoplift food purely for the sake of satiating their human need. The ruling points to the fact that though courts should enforce the law, they should also be humane and understanding of the fellow people with whom we share the earth.