This legislative session, Illinois lawmakers will vote on a critical bill that proposes urgently needed reform of the state's overly punitive felony theft law. By increasing the property value threshold for felony theft from $500 to $2000, HB 1614 would take a significant step towards reversing mass incarceration in Illinois. In order to advance this important piece of legislation, WCRJ is calling on our allies and supporters to take action.
Illinois’ overly punitive property theft laws have played a foundational role in driving the state’s inhumane and racially targeted practice of mass incarceration. The $500 property value baseline that triggers a felony theft charge in Illinois falls well below national norms, with 29 states setting thresholds at least twice as high. This excessively punitive policy results in the charging and sentencing of thousands of Illinoisans -- often accused of minor, poverty-based infractions -- each year. The overbroad classification of felony theft also exacerbates racial disparities in Illinois’ criminal justice system. In incidents of alleged property theft, law enforcement exercise wide discretion over which cases to charge, resulting in staggering racialized imbalances in the state’s felony theft conviction rates.
In the wake of a decades-long decline in local crime rates, 35 states have raised the felony theft threshold. Despite the baseline increase, these states witnessed a continued reduction in rates of property theft, confirming that overly punitive theft laws have no positive impact on public safety. To foster communities that are truly safe, lawmakers must end the state’s overreliance on prisons and aggressive law enforcement, which perpetuate racialized structural inequity and oppression.
Your voice is crucial to advancing the fight for racial equity, opportunity and justice. Advocate for the change you want to see in your city, state and beyond by visiting WCRJ’s Racial Justice Online Action Center and demanding policy action of your elected officials now.