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Senate Committee Approves Two Bills Aimed At Reducing Prison Populations

January 25th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Florida’s prison budget is more than two billion dollars a year, but some lawmakers say prison costs can be cut by locking up fewer non-violent offenders.
There are approximately 3,300 people behind bars in Florida for felony theft convictions. 
Each costs tax payers more than $20,000 a year.
Part of the reason for the high numbers is Florida’s low threshold for a theft to qualify as a felony.
Stealing an item valued at $300 or more triggers a felony charge.
“As a person gets a felony record, you know even when they’re 18 or 19 or 20-years-old it carries with them all throughout their lives,” said Sal Nuzzo with the James Madison Institute.
A new proposal would raise it to $1,500.
“You can still be convicted of a misdemeanor, serve a year in jail and a $5,000 fine,” said Chelsea Murphy with Right on Crime.
$300 in the 1980’s, when the limit was set, is now worth $683. Barney Bishop with The Florida Smart Justice Alliance says the proposed $1500 threshold is too high.
“If you’re the person that somebody broke into your home and they stole $1,500 of your jewelry, you’re not going to appreciate the fact that it’s still a misdemeanor,” said Bishop.
Bishop’s example would technically qualify as burglary, which would still be classified as a felony regardless of the bill becoming law. Nevertheless, he’s in favor of a compromise on the dollar amount.
Retailers worry increasing the felony theft threshold will result in crooks stealing more.
“That’s costing jobs, that’s costing resources,” said Melissa Ramba with the Florida Retail Federation.
The bill cleared a senate committee alongside another proposal.
The second would make it harder for non-violent offenders to be sent to jail. Sponsor of both, Senator Randolph Bracy says the two combined will make a dent in correctional costs.
“And I think it will help us focus our efforts on serious criminals,” said Bracy.
How much taxpayers will save is a moving target, but the 3,300 in prison for felony theft cost the state $66 million a year.
Since 2000, 37 states have raised their felony theft threshold. Florida’s neighboring states Georgia and Alabama both have $1,500 thresholds.

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