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Lengthy Sentences are Not Making Communities Safer

| September 22, 2017

Steal a cell phone or a car? Well in Florida, you just signed yourself up for a grand theft felony in both scenarios. That’s right, a cell phone or a car priced under $20,000 hold the same punishment. Since 1986, Florida’s property theft threshold has been at $300. Meaning any theft valued at above $300 is considered a felony. Only two other states in the nation have lower thresholds than Florida; Virginia and New Jersey. Over the past 10 years, none of Florida’s neighboring states (which all have higher thresholds and many recently changing their laws to reflect inflation) saw increases in their larceny theft rates. The common misconception is that increasing theft thresholds would mean a larceny theft increase, but the data shows just the opposite.  South Carolina, with the second highest threshold of our neighboring southern states, saw its larceny-theft rate decrease by 27 percent between 2005 and 2015, after they increased their threshold in 2010. So what does this mean? Well, for starters, Florida has some catching up to do. But the bottom line is increasing the felony theft threshold has no correlation to larceny rates, in fact those states that have increased their threshold have seen their larceny rates decrease. While these numbers do not prove that raising theft thresholds will lower crime, states should see the data as a reassurance that theft thresholds can be raised at no expense to public safety.

These lengthy sentences are not making communities safer, so why are we locking up someone who steals a car valued at $20,000 and someone who steals a cell phone valued at $300 with the same charge? Stealing a cell phone and stealing a car should hold a vastly different sentence. The current sentencing model is creating heavy costs to taxpayers – with little to no benefit for public safety – and it’s making victim restitution virtually impossible. It is time for Florida to focus on victim restitution and smarter sentencing. Both data and our neighboring states have shown us how to accomplish this: by raising the felony property theft threshold.

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CHELSEA MURPHY  has been immersed in Florida politics for the past decade, and advocated on behalf of various clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies, trade associations, non-profits, to local governments. More specifically to justice reform she represented the largest and oldest private provider for re-entry programming in the state of Florida. She helped start two smart justice coalitions, and she’s represented a variety of mental and behavioral health stakeholders.

Chelsea is based in Tallahassee where she lives with her husband and two children.

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