Raising the Felony Threshold
Position: The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP) believes that the Commonwealth of Virginia should raise its felony threshold. Currently, Virginia’s felony threshold is only $200, which means that if someone is convicted of stealing more than $200 worth (e.g. a pair of fancy sneakers), you could get a felony conviction, which could hurt you for life.
Although VICPP supports raising the threshold to $1,500 or $2,000 like surrounding states, VICPP has supported more modest efforts in the General Assembly to raise the felony threshold from $200 to $500 as a modest first step.
- Virginia’s legal threshold for felony robbery charges has not changed since 1980, when it was raised from $100 to the current level of $200. Virginia’s felony threshold is the lowest in the nation. Thirty states have set their felony larceny threshold at $1,000 or more, including Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, and North Carolina and 46 states have set their threshold at $500 or more.
- Having such a low felony threshold results in severe punishments for young people who steal sneakers, jackets or other tempting items. Although stealing needs to have consequences, Virginia shouldn’t destroy people’s lives in the process. Felony convictions can result in jail sentences as long as 12 years. With a recidivism rate of 82 percent, most of those entering the prison “system” stay for their whole lives. Although prosecutors seldom seek felony convictions for first small robbery offenses, the law still should be changed.
- Raising the felony threshold does not increase theft. At least 12 states that have raised their threshold to $1,000 or more saw a decline in thefts.
- Raising the threshold would save Virginia taxpayers millions annually. Larceny convictions accounted for one out of every four individuals incarcerated in 2012, at a cost of approximately $25,000 a year per individual. In 2008 the Virginia Department of Correctionsestimated that adjusting the threshold to $500 would save taxpayers more than $3.5 million in saved prison bed costs in 2013 alone.
- Adjusting the threshold would help make communities safer. Virginia is expending valuable and limited resources prosecuting and incarcerating people for these low level felonies, resources that could be better directed to programs that keep communities safe.
2018 General Assembly:
VICPP will again support efforts in the General Assembly to raise the felony threshold.