Richmond, VA – Today, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed into law HB 1550, a bill that raises the threshold for people caught stealing low-dollar items from being branded as felons. The measure, which was brought about through a compromise reached by Governor Northam and Republican leaders, raises the state’s felony threshold from $200 to $500. Virginia has kept its felony bar at $200 since 1980 and was tied with New Jersey for the lowest felony threshold in the country. A low felony threshold has led to longer prison terms for crimes that would entail significantly less disciplinary action in other states around the nation.
Generation Opportunity-Virginia (GO-VA), a group that advocates for policies that benefit the lives of younger Americans, worked closely with lawmakers to support this reform because the group believes young people who make mistakes deserve a second chance after they have paid their debt to society, and that a punishment should fit the crime.
Jacob Fish, spokesman for GO-VA, issued the following statement:
“We all make mistakes when we are young and slapping an unnecessarily high sentence on a minor offense can turn a wayward young person into a hardened criminal. Raising the felony threshold will maintain important public safety standards while helping prevent Virginians from being branded for life as dangerous criminals due to youthful indiscretions. It is important to protect the victims of theft while still ensuring that the punishment fits the severity of the offense. We applaud Governor Northam for signing this long overdue measure into law and encourage Virginia lawmakers to continue pushing for policies that will improve criminal justice in our commonwealth.”
According to the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, since 2000, well over half of all US states have raised their felony theft thresholds. Raising the threshold will save Virginia taxpayers millions annually. Larceny convictions accounted for 1 out of every 4 individuals incarcerated in 2012, at a cost of approximately $25,000 a year per individual. In 2008, the Virginia Department of Corrections estimated that adjusting the threshold to only $500 would save taxpayers more than $3.5 million in saved prison bed costs in 2013 alone.
Excessive laws and harsh sentencing disproportionately impact young Americans, as millennials make up nearly 40 percent of the federal inmate population and half of state prison populations. Due to an excess of laws and harsh penalties, the United States has a higher incarceration rate than any other nation in the world. Since 1980, the federal prison population has grown by nearly 800 percent.
States across the nation including Texas, Georgia, Utah, Kentucky, and South Carolina have implemented comprehensive criminal justice reform policies that demonstrate it is possible to lower crime and increase public safety while reducing incarceration rates and saving taxpayer money.
Generation Opportunity is a national, nonpartisan movement for more freedom, better opportunities, and a brighter future for all young Americans