An estimated 45,00 Americans are behind bars for thefts of less than $10,000, and their punishments do not fit the crime. In New York, stealing more than $1,000 is a felony. For example, a person who grabs a new iPhone can end up in prison, at public expense, for four years. In American society, it is hard to recover from a felony conviction. It is difficult to find housing, a job, and to rebuild a life. New York spends about $60,000 per prisoner per year.
Brian Benjamin, a state senator from New York City, plans to introduce legislation to raise the state felony theft threshold to $5,000. With a few exceptions, thefts of lesser value would instead be misdemeanors. Offenders would be punished, but the path to rehabilitation would remain relatively clear. Under Mr. Benjamin’s legislation, New York would be the only state to index felony theft thresholds to inflation. Stealing $1,000 today is the rough equivalent of stealing $500 three decades ago.
The New York prison population declined by 47 percent. The state has reduced the severity of punishments for nonviolent drug crimes. It has reformed bail rules so that fewer people are jailed before trial. Yet, New York imprisons more people for technical parole violations than any other state. The state’s incarceration rate remains high because New York continues to use prison as the default punishment for too many crimes. The state can set an example for the rest of the nation by adopting a more sensible approach to property crime.
I believe people are being locked up for small thefts. This can lead to prisons having maximum people in jail, leaving no room for people who cause more life-threatening crimes. They should pay the amount that they stole instead of taking up space in the prisons.