Advocates say serial shoplifter needs care, not jail

A serial shoplifter with nearly 100 Big Apple busts under his belt has been arrested again — but legal advocates say he needs mental health care, not handcuffs, to break the cycle.

They’re accusing the city simply of failing James Connelly, 30, who has never even been contacted by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s much-ballyhooed ThriveNYC program despite seeing the inside of a courtroom dozens of times, sources said.

Instead, Connelly has been through a criminal justice revolving door since 2019, with dozens of arrests on non-violent charges that don’t qualify for bail under state law.

“Clients like Mr. Connelly need treatment, not jail,” said Lupe Todd-Medina, a spokeswoman for New York County Defender Services.

“Instead of cycling him through the system where he will not get the care that he actually needs, a compassionate city would invest in more residential substance use treatment beds and supportive housing so that New Yorkers seeking treatment, individuals like Mr. Connelly, are able to do so,” she said.

James Connelly most recently targeted this Target store in Tribeca.

The career criminal was most recently pinched on Tuesday at a Target in Tribeca and charged with trespassing for violating a court order to stay away from the store — where he’s been nabbed repeatedly in the past for allegedly shoplifting.

At his arraignment Thursday evening on that case, as well as a separate shoplifting charge from Dec. 20, he pleaded guilty to two pending misdemeanors and was given a conditional discharge. Prosecutors asked for supervised release on the most recent case, which includes a felony count of third-degree burglary.

Manhattan prosecutors said they would typically ask for bail on the felony — and still could in the future — but that it was the DA’s policy not to seek bail for non-violent felonies.

James Connelly in court.
James Connelly has two pending misdemeanors and was given a conditional discharge on Dec. 20.

Tuesday marked the third time in two weeks Connelly was arrested at the Greenwich Street Target — he was also nabbed for allegedly stealing cases of Red Bull from the store on Dec. 15 and Dec. 24.

According to criminal complaints filed in Manhattan criminal court, Greer was accused of stealing from the same Target store at least 14 times between Oct. 10 and Christmas Eve, making off with electric toothbrushes, razors, soap, and cans of Red Bull.

He even hit the store twice in one day on Oct. 16, when he allegedly stole 25 items around 8:30 a.m., and 17 more items shortly after noon, the complaints show.

Greer is accused of hitting other Big Apple retailers as well, including Duane Reade.

Even before Tuesday’s arrest, Greer already had seven open cases in Manhattan and was free without bail on all of them, even as he allegedly continued his shoplifting spree.

That’s because the charges — typically petit larceny and criminal possession of stolen property — aren’t eligible for bail under the state’s criminal justice reform laws.

Officials at the state Office of Court Administration said judges have discretion to order civil commitment or require mental health screening as a condition of release.

But it is unclear if that has ever been ordered for Connelly.

ThriveNYC, a $1 billion de Blasio initiative launched in 2015 and overseen by first lady Chirlane McCray, was launched to address the city’s homelessness and mental health crisis.

The program has long been criticized for falling far short of tackling the crisis despite its hefty price tag, even amid a spike in vagrant attacks on city subways.

Chirlane McCray speaking at a ThriveNYC event.
According to advocates, James Connelly never received help from the much-maligned ThriveNYC program, spearheaded by outgoing First Lady Chirlane McCray.

“We’re spending $200 million a year on a mental health program, Thrive, with little accountability, with little data or outcomes to show progress,” City Comptroller Scott Stringer railed at a press conference in February.

Officials at City Hall did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Additional reporting by Oumou Fofana