In 2008, the Virginia Crime Commission did a study about the felony larceny (“grand larceny”) threshold. It found that Virginia is one of only two states (with NJ) that has a grand larceny threshold of only $200. The $200 threshold has been in place since 1980. Adjusting for inflation, this is the equivalent of about $550 in 2012 dollars. A large proportion of states (17 of 50 or 34%) have a threshold of $500 dollars for grand larceny. 17 other states (another 34%) have thresholds of 1,000 dollars. Therefore, a majority of other states already meet the 500 dollar or higher threshold. If Virginia wants to be a model state for criminal justice, they sure aren’t meeting it by being in the bottom 2% as I will illustrate.
Getting a felony conviction affects the ability of Virginians to become productive members of society. When one becomes a felon, one loses the right to vote, and often felony charges will affect the ability of someone to get hired for a job. Not being able to vote or find employment limits one’s ability to participate politically and socially in life, thus limiting other types of influences the individual can have in life. This makes the issue of a larceny conviction a civil rights issue, because it will disproportionately affect one group of Virginians (felony larcenists) over another group of Virginians (everyone else). By raising the larceny threshold to $500, Virginia not only meets the standard of a large proportion of states, it also prevents Virginians from losing their rights to vote and assures their unproductive future.
Another important point is the tax burden on Virginia that would be relieved as a result of fewer felons being sent to prison. Housing and caring for prisoners, including felons, is an enormous cost on taxpayers and the state. Having felons in prison who are there solely because they stole something worth $200 dollars seems like a waste of taxpayer dollars compared to housing someone who committed a violent crime. Raising the felony larceny threshold will save Virginia tax and public service dollars later on because of the reduction of prisoners’ care costs. Thus, from both a civil rights and fiscal standpoint, it would benefit the Commonwealth to change the larceny threshold from $200 to $500. I am not arguing that $200 is not a large amount of money to many Virginians, but I think compared to other felony crimes it seems fairly petty.
Gina Suslick is a legislative intern with Virginia Organizing and a Masters of Social Work & Public Health student at VCU.