TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) — Florida's prison budget each year is more than $2 billion, but 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 inmate costs tax payers more than $20,000 per year.
Part of the reason for the high number of convictions 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, even when they're 18, 19 or 20 years old, it carries with them all throughout their lives, said Sal Nuzzo of the James Madison Institute.
A new proposal would raise the felony threshold to $1,500. With the proposed limit, as Right on Crime's Chelsea Murphy explains, You can still be convicted of a misdemeanor, serve a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
The limit was set at $300 in the 1980's, which is now equivalent to $683. The Florida Smart Justice Alliance says the proposed 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 Barney Bishop of the FSJA.
Retailers worry increasing the felony theft threshold will result in crooks stealing more.
The bill cleared a senate committee, alongside another proposal. The second proposal would make it harder for non-violent offenders to be sent to jail.
Senator Randolph Bracy (D – Ocoee), the sponsor of both bills, says the two combined will make a dent in correctional costs.
I think it will help us focus our efforts on serious criminals, he said.
How much taxpayers will save is a moving target, but the 33,000 people in prison for felony theft cost the state $66 million a year.