How inflation makes your state’s criminal justice system harsher today than it was yesterday

The case for increasing the monetary level for felony theft.

by Tiana Herring, June 10, 2020

Each state sets a statutory definition of which thefts are felonies (punishable by longer sentences in prison) and which are misdemeanors (punishable by shorter sentences in jail). But in many states, the dollar amount separating felony theft from misdemeanor theft has not been increased in years, even though inflation makes the older laws more punitive each year.

These limits vary from New Jersey (a $200 theft is a fourth-degree felony) to Texas and Wisconsin where a theft must be worth $2,500 before you can get a state prison sentence. New Jersey’s limit is so low because it is one of the oldest in the country — it remains unchanged from when it was originally enacted in 1978.1 Only one state — Alaska — automatically adjusts the felony theft threshold with inflation.2 The range between the states is tremendous:

Table showing felony theft thresholds in each state as of 2018. For more detail including the amount of the previous threshold for most states, see the appendix table below. *The exact year of the last update to the felony theft threshold in each state was not readily available for all states, but Pew Charitable Trusts’ 2018 article reports that that the felony theft threshold in these states predate the year 2000.
State Felony Theft Threshold Year Threshold Last Updated
Alabama $1,500 2015
Alaska $1,000 2016
Arizona $1,000 2006
Arkansas $1,000 2011
California $950 2010
Colorado $2,000 2013
Connecticut $2,000 2009
Delaware $1,500 2009
District of Columbia $1,000 2010
Florida $750 2019
Georgia $1,500 2012
Hawaii $750 2016
Idaho $1,000 before 2000*
Illinois $500 2010
Indiana $750 2013
Iowa $1,000 before 2000*
Kansas $1,500 2016
Kentucky $500 2009
Louisiana $1,000 2017
Maine $1,000 before 2000*
Maryland $1,500 2016
Massachusetts $1,200 2018
Michigan $1,000 before 2000*
Minnesota $1,000 2007
Mississippi $1,000 2014
Missouri $750 2014
Montana $1,500 2009
Nebraska $1,500 2015
Nevada $650 2011
New Hampshire $1,000 2010
New Jersey $200 1978
New Mexico $500 2006
New York $1,000 before 2000*
North Carolina $1,000 before 2000*
North Dakota $1,000 2013
Ohio $1,000 2011
Oklahoma $1,000 2016
Oregon $1,000 2009
Pennsylvania $2,000 before 2000*
Rhode Island $1,500 2012
South Carolina $2,000 2010
South Dakota $1,000 2005
Tennessee $1,000 2016
Texas $2,500 2015
Utah $1,500 2010
Vermont $900 2006
Virginia $1,000 2020
Washington $750 2009
West Virginia $1,000 before 2000*


Wisconsin $2,500 2001
Wyoming $1,000 2004

Updating felony theft statutes is one simple way to reduce the number of people serving time in prison for low-level offenses. Making more minor thefts into misdemeanors will also spare more people from the often lifelong collateral consequences of felony convictions that can limit their access to public housing, welfare benefits, and even voting.

Decreasing the punishment for minor thefts is unlikely to encourage more thefts. As Pew Charitable Trusts found in their invaluable 2018 report, States Can Safely Raise Their Felony Theft Thresholds, Research Shows, South Carolina’s property crime rates actually continued to fall years after the threshold increased. This isn’t unique to South Carolina, either. Pew’s article also included a brief comparison of crime rates in all 50 states, reporting that between 2000 and 2012, the 30 states that increased their thresholds had property crime rates similar to the 20 states that had not yet updated their laws.

 

Footnotes

  1. See New Jersey Statute 2C:20-3 (Chapter 95, Laws of 1978)  ↩

  2. See Alaska Statute 11.46.982.  ↩

Appendix table

This table was built from The Effects of Changing Felony Theft Thresholds (2017) and States Can Safely Raise Their Felony Theft Thresholds, Research Shows (2018) by Pew Charitable Trusts and supplemented with additional research by the Prison Policy Initiative for Florida and Virginia which changed their laws after Pews’ reports, as well as New Jersey and Wisconsin, for which we found the year the threshold was last updated. *The exact year of the last update to the felony theft threshold in each state was not readily available for all states, but Pew Charitable Trusts’ 2018 article reports that that the felony theft threshold in these states predate the year 2000.

State Felony Theft Threshold Year Threshold Last Updated Previous Felony Theft Threshold
Alabama $1,500 2015 $500
Alaska $1,000 2016 $750
Arizona $1,000 2006 $250
Arkansas $1,000 2011 $500
California $950 2010 $400
Colorado $2,000 2013 $1,000
Connecticut $2,000 2009 $1,000
Delaware $1,500 2009 $1,000
District of Columbia $1,000 2010 n/a
Florida $750 2019 $300
Georgia $1,500 2012 $500
Hawaii $750 2016 $300
Idaho $1,000 before 2000* n/a
Illinois $500 2010 $300
Indiana $750 2013 any amount
Iowa $1,000 before 2000* n/a
Kansas $1,500 2016 $1,000
Kentucky $500 2009 $300
Louisiana $1,000 2017 $750
Maine $1,000 before 2000* n/a
Maryland $1,500 2016 $1,000
Massachusetts $1,200 2018 $250
Michigan $1,000 before 2000* n/a
Minnesota $1,000 2007 $500
Mississippi $1,000 2014 $500
Missouri $750 2014 $500
Montana $1,500 2009 $1,000
Nebraska $1,500 2015 $500
Nevada $650 2011 $250
New Hampshire $1,000 2010 $500
New Jersey $200 1978 n/a
New Mexico $500 2006 $250
New York $1,000 before 2000* n/a
North Carolina $1,000 before 2000* n/a
North Dakota $1,000 2013 $500
Ohio $1,000 2011 $500
Oklahoma $1,000 2016 $500
Oregon $1,000 2009 $750
Pennsylvania $2,000 before 2000* n/a
Rhode Island $1,500 2012 $500
South Carolina $2,000 2010 $1,000
South Dakota $1,000 2005 $500
Tennessee $1,000 2016 $500
Texas $2,500 2015 $1,500
Utah $1,500 2010 $1,000
Vermont $900 2006 $500
Virginia $1,000 2020 $500
Washington $750 2009 $250
West Virginia $1,000 before 2000* n/a
Wisconsin $2,500 2001 $1,000
Wyoming $1,000 2004 $500

Tiana Herring is a Research Associate at the Prison Policy Initiative. (Other articles | Full bio | Contact)



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