Felony Larceny: Virginia vs. Texas

Depending on where you live, your state’s criminal laws might be creating more criminals.

Larceny, or theft, carries a misdemeanor charge in most places in the United States, but when the stolen property is valuable enough, the charge changes from a misdemeanor to a felony. What constitutes a felony larceny varies from state to state, though, and this necessarily arbitrary distinction can have a big impact.

In an op-ed for National Review, Vikrant Reddy, senior research fellow at the Charles Koch Institute, suggests that states should reevaluate their felony larceny thresholds as a way of reducing the number of people who are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes.

Two states, in particular, illustrate what can happen when the felony larceny threshold is changed. In Virginia, this threshold is a mere $200. In Texas, on the other hand, the felony larceny threshold has been much higher for more than two decades. In 1993, it had a felony larceny threshold of $1,500; in 2015, that amount was raised to $2,500.

In an op-ed for the Richmond Times-Dispatch that Reddy co-authored with Ken Cuccinelli, Pat Nolan, and Grover Norquist earlier this year, the authors consider how Virginia’s low felony larceny threshold has a particularly negative effect on the youth incarceration rate:

“Virginia … unsurprisingly locked up more youths for a primary conviction of larceny than for any other offense in 2014. The consequences of these felony convictions reverberate for years. A felony conviction frequently makes it much more difficult to find legal employment, making it much harder to pull one’s life back together. Virginia needs to raise its felony threshold — we suggest $1,000.”

Behind the Times

Texas isn’t the only state Virginia lags behind when it comes to raising the felony larceny threshold. Between 2001 and 2011, 23 states increased their felony larceny thresholds, and, according to a Pew study, these increases had “no impact on overall property crime or larceny rates.” In fact, total larceny rates fell in 19 of those states.

All theft, no matter the dollar amount involved, has real victims, and suggesting that states revisit their felony larceny thresholds doesn’t mean that people who steal should not be held accountable. However, as Reddy concludes in his National Review op-ed, the felony larceny threshold does impact all people who live in a state.

“The way we classify and handle property and drug crimes can free up funds that are currently used for incarceration. Policies like this cost taxpayers dearly. They also harm public safety because they place many petty criminals in prison cells with hardened criminals for lengthy periods of time — and these petty offenders, after exposure to the worst elements in prison, sometimes emerge worse than they entered.” 
 
 Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/435556/criminal-justice-reform-facts-make-strongest-case?target=author&tid=995101

http://www.richmond.com/opinion/their-opinion/guest-columnists/article_34e1fc32-5d11-578b-8423-1144a7ee2668.html

http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2016/02/the-effects-of-changing-state-theft-penalties