Can You go to Prison for Criminal Damage?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: August 25, 2021

I have written in the past about the mass incarceration problem in the United States. In my opinion, one of the reasons our prisons and jails are so crowded is because we lock people up for non-violent “crimes” that often have no victims. 

The truth is, the 50 states that make up our great country have thousands of laws on the books that can put anyone behind bars, depending on the mood of the local prosecutor, which has really messed things up in our criminal justice system and prison system. From my point of view, it makes it difficult to answer questions about what crimes land you in prison because there is absolutely no parity in the system.

I know this may sound silly to some people, but the prosecutor in your county/city is one of the most powerful people in your local government. It’s their decision whether or not to prosecute any case that comes across their desk. They don’t have to press charges if they don’t want to, no matter the crime.

If the system is so broken that we don’t think twice about putting non-violent offenders behind bars, what about when someone actually gets violent? Can you go to prison for criminal damage? 

In today’s blog post, I will cover the following topics:

  • What is criminal damage?
  • What are the punishments for criminal damage?

What is criminal damage?

Criminal damage is essentially the crime of damaging property. This crime is committed when someone intentionally causes damage to another person’s property without permission. The definition varies by state, but the following acts can be defined as criminal damage:

  • Knowingly engaging in conduct that causes damage to another person’s property 
  • Damaging someone’s property by fire or explosion while acting recklessly
  • Starting a fire knowingly on land belonging to another person
  • Knowingly injuring a pet that belongs to another
  • Damaging property with the intent to collect insurance

In some states, intentionally causing damage to someone else’s property is known as, “malicious damage to property,” but that is pretty much the same thing as criminal damage. 

The important thing to remember about this category of crime — whether it’s called criminal damage or malicious damage — is that someone is inflicting damage on someone else’s property both intentionally and knowingly. 

However, in some states you can be charged with criminal damage due to gross negligence or acting recklessly if the damage that’s been inflicted is severe.

What are the punishments for criminal damage?

Because state law governs the crime of criminal damage to property, the punishments vary. Depending on the severity of the damage, this crime can be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Oftentimes, the cost to repair the damage done determines whether or not someone is charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. For example, in South Carolina, if the cost to repair the damage is $2,000 or less, it’s considered a misdemeanor. The penalty is a fine up to $1,000 and/or 30 days in jail.

If the damage is between $2,000 and $10,000, the criminal damage charge is a felony. That can come with some prison time. The penalty for felony criminal damage in South Carolina is a prison sentence of no more than five years. 

If the damage exceeds $10,000, the penalty is a maximum of 10 years in prison. Those felony convictions can also come with a fine, which is determined by the sentencing judge. 

In Illinois, a criminal damage charge is a misdemeanor if the damage is $300 or less. That comes with a possible penalty of  up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. If the value of the property damage is over $300 but less than $10,000, the crime is a felony. That comes with a prison sentence of up to three years and a maximum fine of $25,000.

For damage valued more than $10,000 but less than $100,000 in the state of Illinois, the possible sentence is five years in prison and a $25,000 fine. 

In Missouri, criminal property damage in the first degree occurs when someone knowingly causes damage valued at $750 or more. This is considered a Class E felony, which can result in up to four years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

No matter what state you are in, sentences for misdemeanors are served in the city or county jail. While sentences for felonies are served in a state prison.

What are the punishments for criminal damage in your state? Are those punishments determined by the value of the property damaged? Let us know in the comments below.

Prison Policy Initiative

Criminal Damage To Property

Felony Property Damage in Missouri
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