COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — In one of her first moves as Cook County's top prosecutor, Kim Foxx is raising the bar for charging shoplifters with a felony.
According to her office, Fox expects retail-theft cases to remain misdemeanors unless a suspect stole $1,000 worth of merchandise or has 10 prior felony convictions.
The change went into effect Monday, according to a spokeswoman with the Cook County state's attorney's office.
Previously, shoplifters could be charged with a felony for stealing $300 to $500 worth of merchandise.
"The move clarifies guidelines for how felony retail theft cases will be handled to ensure consistency in charging and to prioritize limited resources," Foxx's office said in a statement Thursday. "Prosecutors will retain the discretion to review cases and take appropriate action on a case by case basis."
Rob Karr, president of the Illinois Merchant Retail Association, said he was "extraordinarily shocked and disappointed" by the move.
"This sends a message that retail theft is victimless and not serious," Karr said. "That couldn't be further from the truth. This is tantamount to declaring open season on retail stores."
As of Wednesday, there were 101 people in Cook County Jail awaiting trial for Class 4 felony retail-theft cases, according to Cara Smith, chief of policy for the Cook County Sheriff's Office.
"This is a population of people who tend to spend a lot of time in the jail," Smith said. "We've been advocating for years that they do not belong there."
Smith said most of the accused shoplifters who come through Cook County Jail "are by and large very sympathetic." They're often homeless, mentally ill or suffering from addiction, she noted.
Filing fewer felony cases will "have a significant effect on that population," Smith said. "These are people in need of services, not incarceration."
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