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SB334: Creating Felons and Punishing Taxpayers

SB334: Creating Felons and Punishing Taxpayers

SB334 wants taxpayers like you to pay 20X the value of an Oklahoman’s property crimes just to punish that person.

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SB334 is a bill introduced by Senator Lonnie Paxton in the Oklahoma Senate. The bill has passed off the Senate Floor. On March 31st, the bill was passed in the House Appropriations Committee 19 to 11 with the title off. Functionally, the bill extends the aggregation period for retail larcenies from 90 days (current state) to 6 months. Of all the states we surveyed, 90 days was the longest aggregation period.* Adding a 6 month aggregation period would be longer than necessary and only serve to take people who steal to survive and make them into felons. This is exactly what Oklahoma voters sought to change in 2016 when they passed State Question 780.

Think about it this way:

Let’s say an Oklahoman has been stealing food or basic necessities every week over a 6 month period. That’s June to December just for reference. By the end of this time period, we’ll assume everything they’ve stolen adds up to $1,001. 

That’s a lot of money, right? No question. 

But there is a lot to consider here. It’s not just about the crime and the punishment. It’s also about the cost to society to take on that punishment, how much society is willing to spend to correct the behavior. Here is a breakdown: 

  • If this Oklahoman is caught and arrested once a week over that six months… they’d have about $38 worth of merchandise on them at the time of their arrest. 
  • For perspective, $1,001 dollars stolen over 6 months works out to about $5.50 a day.  
  • So Senate Bill 334 aims to give that Oklahoman a felony conviction and incarcerate them in our drastically overloaded prison system for up to two years based on consistently shoplifting a value many of us likely spend on coffee every day.

Is everyone stealing 38 dollars a week? No, not precisely. But data does show the vast majority of retail crimes are committed due to lack of basic needs and/or to feed an addiction. We are not talking about large-scale thefts here. If we were, there would be no need to aggregate them in the first place. People who steal over $1000 can be charged with Felony Larceny from a Retailer, and serve up to two years in prison.

The very vocal supporters of this bill want to convince you and fellow lawmakers that small businesses are being cleaned out by out-of-control savvy organized criminals who calculate their haul and steal just enough to avoid crossing a thousand dollar threshold. There is no data to support these anecdotes. Shoplifting reports have remained relatively stagnant since 2013 (even when we consider that we converted Larceny from a Retailer to a misdemeanor in 2017).

The reality is, people stealing $1,000 worth of merchandise in six months are doing so to survive. Supporters of this legislation are trying to punish and criminalize desperation by telling you a really scary story. 

The truth is, many of the people committing these crimes are homeless and struggling to survive. Taxpayers already pay $50 per day for every person sentenced to serve their time in county jails on this offense. For someone convicted of retail larceny, Oklahomans pay approximately $1500 per person serving 30 days in county jail.

And if that doesn’t make any sense, here’s where SB 334 gets really hard to understand: 

The sponsor and supporters of SB 334 believe an Oklahoman committing misdemeanor theft at a rate of $5 a day … should be incarcerated for up to two years at a total potential cost of nearly $42,000 (DOC’s average yearly cost to incarcerate an inmate was $21,280 in 2020, you can learn more about daily costs of inmates in different facilities here.). You foot the bill with your tax dollars and the cost represents 20X the value of stolen merchandise in these cases.

Our lawmakers should be focusing on developing alternatives to incarceration that are cheaper, allow people to stay in their communities and manage the stressors that led them to commit a petty offense in the first place, and don’t send more money into a broken system.

*State Aggregation Periods

Kansas – 72 hours (2 K.S.A. § 21-5801)

Florida – 30 days (Fla. Stat. § 812.015)

North Carolina – 90 days (N.C. Gen. Stat. Section 14-86.6)

South Carolina – 90 days (5 S.C. Code Ann. § 16-13-135)

Tennessee – 90 days (Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-14-113)

Oklahoma – 90 days (21 Okl. St. § 1731)

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