Push to increase felony theft threshold: A step for criminal justice reform in KY

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – There’s a bill in Frankfort that would raise the threshold for a theft to be classified as a felony. That standard hasn’t been raised in Kentucky in more than a decade.

It has already passed the House. Now, the Senate is considering it.

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“We’re very hopeful this legislative session and in the future,” Amanda Hall, Policy Strategist with ACLU of Kentucky, said.

“In Kentucky, it’s simply too easy to be a felony,” Kentucky Public Advocate Damon Preston said.

The public defender said Kentucky is out-of-step with the rest of the country.

“To make someone a convicted felon it should be in response to an action which is very extreme and harmful to society,” Preston said.

The felony theft threshold now is 500-dollars. It’s even less in fraud cases – only 100-dollars.

“To make someone a convicted felon, it should be in response to an action which is very extreme and harmful to society,” Preston said.

Preston said a clogged court system is another big reason to pass the bill.

Hall said she’s worked on the bill for 3 years and is glad to see progress.

“It was decades, decades of passing bills that did nothing but use our criminal justice system as a catch-all,” Hall said.

It’s a system hall got caught up in herself.

“There are over 300,000 people with felony convictions and I’m one of those individuals,” Hall said.

She said the consequences can be costly in more ways than one.

“From trouble finding housing, to employment, to graduating at the top of my class and getting awards from the University of Louisville, but never, ever being eligible for some of the scholarships I applied for,” Hall said.

She says she suffers from drug addiction and has been in recovery for the past 8 years.

Although Hall’s conviction wasn’t for theft, she says she knows first-hand many people steal to fuel their drug addiction. She says labeling them a felon for the rest of their life doesn’t help anyone.

“The bills and the time it’s going to take to repair and look at public safety, look at communities a different way, um, it’s going to take a long time,” Hall said.

Hall said there are a number of other bills dealing with criminal justice reform she hopes can pass the General Assembly.