If you are convicted of theft of over $300 in our state, you will be convicted of a Class 4 felony.
That’s right – $300 is all it takes. And a Class 4 felony isn’t anything to sneeze at, either. Penalties can include one to three years in prison.
And if you are incarcerated (Class 4 felons in Illinois spend, on average, 7 months in prison), you will arrive to an overcrowded prison, where around 40% of your fellow inmates will also be Class 4 felons. During your sentence, more prisoners will keep coming, and the prison will become even more crowded.
Overcrowding of prisons in Illinois has become an increasing problem over the past few decades, and many experts point to the low thresholds the law has for theft and other low-level, nonviolent offenses.
(Almost) the Lowest of the Low
The felony theft threshold in 30 states is $1,000. And almost every other state has a felony threshold of at least around $500. Only four other states have a felony theft threshold at or below $300 – Massachusetts, Florida, Virginia, and New Jersey.
Moreover, if you get caught stealing $500 in Illinois – the amount many states say you must exceed to get hit with any type of felony, our state bumps your charges up to a Class 3 felony! Moral of the story – if you get caught stealing, you better hope you’re not in Illinois.
Of course, proponents would argue that the low thresholds serve as a deterrent. But is that really true? How could it be when such a high percentage of our inmates – 40%! – are there for Class 4 felonies?
What it really does is put a huge strain on our prison system and our society as a whole.
The Negative Consequences of High Incarceration Rates
High incarceration rates negatively impact our state in all kinds of ways. Inmates have to endure crowded prisons due to a punishment that does not always fit the crime they committed. For regular citizens, more and more of their tax dollars are being diverted from other important areas such as education and maintenance to keep up with the costs of our prison system.
How much is that cost? Over a billion dollars a year. And when you look at the fact that the average cost of incarcerating an inmate for a year in Illinois’s state prison system is $22,191, you can easily see that this makes up a huge part of that bill.
And having so many convicts in our state doesn’t help anyone. Once these men and women finish serving their time, they tend to have difficulty getting a job or securing funding for continued education.
Because of this, many inmates who leave prison quickly return. How bad is it here? Approximately 48% of prisoners end up back in the system within three years of being released. Research from Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform shows that this percentage is highest among Class 4 felons. The prison system for these citizens can turn into a never-ending, horrible cycle.
When you really take a long, hard look at it, our low felony theft threshold becomes harder and harder to defend – it’s harsh, expensive, and ineffective. Until policies and sentencing are changed, however, being charged with stealing even small amount can completely destroy your life. Don’t let that happen, contact an experienced Chicago theft attorney today.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, Murder, and drug crimes.