Let’s Increase the Felony Threshold and Decrease the Money We Spend on Youth Prisons

A longtime friend of mine is one of the coolest guys I know. He has a fiancee, a beautiful home, and an impressive job as a banker.  But one small decision almost changed all of that. When we were in high school, he decided to steal a jacket. He was an honor roll student, but no one is immune to peer pressure and bad youthful decisions. Fortunately, he didn’t end up in prison, but that’s not the reality of many people who make the poor decision to shoplift. We need to raise the property value amount of stolen items that cause someone to be charged with a felony or misdemeanor because people need second chances and guidance when making small bad decisions, not jail time and a lifetime of restrictions.  

Putting an End to False Narratives

We tend to think that shoplifters are diabolical criminal offenders, but 25 percent of people convicted of stealing are teenagers. They’re your nieces and nephews, neighborhood kids, and yes, maybe even your own kids.  Virginia spends $171,588 to incarcerate a youth for one year, and larceny convictions account for 21 percent of people committed to youth prisons in Virginia. We can change that.

Conservatives would like you to think that raising the felony threshold will increase theft. It won’t. At least 12 states that have raised their threshold to $1,000 or more saw a decline in thefts. Instead of spending $25,000 a year on incarcerating adult individuals and  $171,588  on incarcerating youth, we could use that money to fund social programs that keep people out of jail.

One Small Mistake ≠ Lifetime of Restriction

I’m pretty sure we’ve all made a few mistakes in our life. But why should someone wear a scarlet letter for a silly decision that didn’t cause physical harm to anyone else? Sometimes I wonder what would have happened to my friend if he had received a felony. His inability to receive financial aid would have probably caused him to not be able to afford college. Without access to college and a felony larceny charge on his record, he would probably not be the banker that he is today. In fact, having one felony on your record makes it extremely difficult to find a job at all, much less a good one. In addition to all that, my friend would also be unable to secure other social benefits like affordable housing. 

In many ways, my friend is like a lot of us. One small decision away from complete chaos. Let’s have compassion. Let’s raise the felony threshold to $1,000 so that we don’t ruin the lives of people who make one bad mistake. 

The state and national political landscape are rapidly changing. Virginia Democrats just flipped both chambers of the state legislature and the Trump administration’s approval rating is steadily dropping.  Now is the time to advance a new vision of criminal justice reform to ensure that when we talk about justice for all, we truly mean all of us. No exceptions. Please email your local legislators and tell them to support raising the felony threshold. 

Check out other blogs from Progress Virginia on criminal justice reform:

Second Class Citizens: The Fight for Voting Rights Continues

Virginia Needs to End Its Cash Bail System

When Addiction Was Black, Compassion Was Hard to Come By