In 1980, Virginia set the minimum amount (or threshold) for a felony larceny charge at $200. Since then, as inflation has risen 3% every year (on average) and virtually every state in the nation has raised the amount to at least $500 (in Texas it’s $1500 and North Carolina its $1000), Virginia has done nothing. We have the lowest number in the nation. A low threshold means that someone who shoplifts a pair of fancy wireless headphones ($250 at Walmart, imagine explaining that in 1980) would be subject to a felony charge that could essentially ruin their life. A felony charge could result in the loss of voting rights, firearm rights, school financial aid, and potentially the ability to obtain a decent job. And there is no way to account for all of the ways that the families and communities of incarcerated people are harmed when their loved ones are imprisoned for at least one year and up to twenty. This is a simple issue that is ripe for reform.
Nearly one in four incarcerated inmates in Virginia is held due to a larceny charge and raising the limit to $500 would save millions of dollars every year for the state’s prison system. As a comparison, Pulaski County spends $2 million dollars a year for our share of New River Regional Jail which means its likely that $500,000 is going to larceny charged inmates. It’s not just adults: Virginia schools send more young people into the criminal justice system than any other state (and three times the national average) and property crimes are the leading cause of juvenile arrests.
If you’re worried about increased crime – 30 states have raised their felony larceny threshold since 2000. 24 have seen a drop in larceny and overall property crimes regardless of where the threshold was set. If you’re worried the amount will be too high to discourage crime – Florida, which has a felony larceny threshold of $300, sees far higher larceny and property crime rates than Pennsylvania, which has a threshold of $2,000. A misdemeanor larceny charge still carries with it up to 12 months in jail and up to $2500 in fines, and repeat offenders can still be charged with a felony, so there is still plenty of disincentive to commit theft.
Here’s what one of our recent candidates for governor said about this issue. “Virginia’s threshold for classifying a larceny as a felony is $200. This threshold was first set in 1980, almost 40 years ago. What one could buy with $200 in 1980 now costs over $500. The reality that a Virginian could face one to five years in jail for stealing a smartphone is disproportionate to the crime committed.”
That was Ed Gillespie, Republican Candidate for Governor.
So what are our elected representatives doing with this information? The Senate passed a bill out of the Courts of Justice Committee this week raising the threshold to $500. How about the House? Well Speaker Cox has referred proposed bills on this issue not to the Courts of Justice Committee but to the Rules Committee, which he chairs. Oh, and it also has a mix of 11 Republicans to 6 Democrats, while the Courts of Justice Committee has a mix of 10 Republicans to 8 Democrats. Therefore, I wrote a letter to Speaker Cox along with our local member of the House Republican leadership, Nick Rush, telling them that this was an issue important to us here in the New River Valley. I hope if you think this is an issue worth your time, you’ll contact them as well.
Delegate Cox (Speaker) vog.ainigriv.esuohnull@xoCKleD Tel: (804) 698-1066
Delegate Rush (Majority Whip) vog.ainigriv.esuohnull@hsuRNleD Tel: (804) 698-1007