According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, eight percent of households in the United States experienced one or more instances of property victimization in 2014.1 Even so, property crime rates have decreased significantly in recent years.2 Property offenses, which include theft and destruction of property, are primarily categorized in state and federal criminal code by the monetary value associated with the item stolen or destroyed. These monetary standards, or thresholds, for sentencing often differ from state to state, sometimes resulting in wide disparities in the way that property crimes are punished.3
Though approximately 30 states have passed reforms to address disparate monetary thresholds since 2001, many state criminal codes are still awaiting adjustment.4 As a result, felony thresholds for property crimes in the United States vary from valuations in the thousands to a mere $200.00.5 For example, both the commonwealth of Virginia and the state of New Jersey retain the lowest monetary threshold in the nation for a felony property crime.6 State legislatures are addressing these disparities through bills which conform to a median standard of adjustment for inflation, taking into account the cost of lengthy terms of incarceration as well as the value of the property impacted, so that individuals convicted of property crimes receive more proportionate sentences. In a recent study conducted by The Pew Charitable Trusts, it was found that raising the monetary threshold for felony theft does not impact property crime or larceny rates.7
Property crime also gives rise to the issue of restitution, meaning monetary or in-kind efforts to make the victim whole. Restitution is often mandated in addition to other forms of punishment for property crime. Restitution can also extend to other out of pocket expenses that are directly related to the criminal act, so long as the losses are quantifiable. Examining both the losses of the victim and the ability of the responsible party to pay such costs, a court may order partial or full restitution.8
Prison Fellowship believes that punishment for crime must be a proportionate and just response to the offense committed. The punishment for the same criminal act should not vary solely on the basis of jurisdiction. As legislators consider how to positively impact their state or the nation through criminal justice reform, examining areas of disparity in categorization of property offenses is a meaningful place to begin. In the commonwealth of Virginia, Prison Fellowship actively supports legislation to raise the $200 felony threshold, which has remained unchanged for inflation since 1980.
Prison Fellowship also believes that restitution should be determined not only by considering the relative loss of the victim and ability of the responsible party to pay, but also by inviting the victim of crime to be involved in determining the value and type of restitution ordered. By giving victims a platform to voice what will make them whole and by reaching an agreement with all parties to the case, a more restorative process can be achieved for all.
4 Public Safety Performance Project, The Effects of Changing State Theft Penalties, (2016) http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2016/02/the-effects-of-changing-state-theft-penalties [hereinafter Changing Theft Penalties].
6 See Public Safety Performance Project, Changing Theft Penalties, supra note 4.
8 Restitution, National Center for Victims of Crime, https://www.victimsofcrime.org/help-for-crime-victims/get-help-bulletins-for-crime-victims/restitution (last visited Dec. 18, 2015).