It’s time to get creative in finding ways to cut expenditures. One obvious place that doesn’t seem to have been looked at is the criminal code.
Property crimes are divided into misdemeanors and felonies primarily by dollar amount. The first amount was established in 1971, when $100 was set as the maximum dollar value for a misdemeanor. That amount was raised to $250 in 1987. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, using their CPI calculator, that $100 in 1971 was worth $280 in 1987. This amount hasn’t changed since. It was 16 years for the first increase. Now, it’s been over 20 years, and inflation has made that $250 in 1987 worth $467 today.
If the maximum dollar value of stolen property for a misdemeanor was to be raised to $500, it would have an impact on criminal justice costs. As misdemeanors, many cases could be diverted by the district attorney, which would keep it off the trial dockets. It could mean different, less expensive, levels of probation supervision. It could mean the costs of indigent representation would decrease as well, if there were no possibility of jail time, no appointed counsel would be necessary.
Also, it would be a change to keep fairness in the system. If a kid in high school steals an iPod, it’s automatically a felony because of the retail value. The same holds true for a cell phone. Many kids end up with felonies on a first offense simply because of the value of the item, and as we are all aware, cell phones and iPods are ubiquitous.
If the dollar amount for felonies was adjusted to reflect the rate of inflation over these years, it would restore some fairness into the criminal code, and not let inflation make felons out of those who are guilty only of misdemeanors.