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The Effects of Changing State Theft Penalties
Pew: Increased felony thresholds have not resulted in higher property crime or larceny rates
Since 2001, at least 35 states have raised their felony theft thresholds, including five that did so twice. In terms of percentage, Oklahoma’s tenfold increase, from $50 to $500 in 2001, was the largest in the nation.
Editor's Note: Over the last couple weeks, as has been reported in the Daily, several states have looked at increasing felony thresholds. Given the stature of Pew, we assume they updated this report as a direct result of working with these states' respective attorneys general.
Since 2001, at least 35 states have raised their felony theft thresholds, or the value of stolen money or goods above which prosecutors may charge theft offenses as felonies, rather than misdemeanors. Felony offenses typically carry a penalty of at least a year in state prison, while misdemeanors generally result in probation or less than a year in a locally run jail. Lawmakers have made these changes to prioritize costly prison space for more serious offenders and ensure that value-based penalties take inflation into account. A felony theft threshold of $1,000 established in 1985, for example, is equivalent to more than twice that much in 2015 dollars.
Critics have warned that these higher cutoff points might embolden offenders and cause property crime, particularly larceny, to rise. To determine whether their concerns have proved to be true, The Pew Charitable Trusts examined crime trends in the 28 states that raised their felony theft thresholds between 2001 and 2011, a period that allows analysis of each jurisdiction from three years before to three years after the policy change. Pew also compared trends in states that raised their thresholds during this period with those that did not. This chartbook illustrates three important conclusions from the analysis:
• Raising the felony theft threshold has no impact on overall property crime or larceny rates.
• States that increased their thresholds reported roughly the same average decrease in crime as the 22 states that did not change their theft laws.
• The amount of a state's felony theft threshold-whether it is $500, $1,000, $2,000, or more-is not correlated with its property crime and larceny rates.
This brief was updated Feb. 24, 2017, to correct the count of states that changed their thresholds as of 2014 and to revise the associated calculations.
Experts attribute the nation's sustained drop in violent and property crime rates to a host of factors, including better policing; the increased incarceration of certain repeat offenders; an expansion in private security personnel; an aging population that is less prone to criminal behavior; and technological advances, such as the widespread use of surveillance cameras, car- and home-alarm systems, and digital transactions that have reduced the need for cash. pewtrusts.org
In 2015, the rate of property crime was estimated at 2,487.0 per 100,000 inhabitants, a 3.4 percent decrease when compared with the 2014 estimated rate. The 2015 property crime rate was 14.4 percent less than the 2011 estimate and 25.7 percent less than the 2006 estimate. arceny-theft accounted for 71.4 percent of all property crimes in 2015. (Source: FBI)
In 2016 the property crime category, larceny offenses dropped 0.6 percent. (Source: FBI)
At Least 35 States Have Raised Felony Theft Thresholds Since 2001
Higher sums are designed to take inflation into account
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