Chelsea Eileen Steiniger

by James A. Bacon

Meet Chelsea Eileen Steiniger, a 31-year-old Buckingham County woman who, according to The Daily Progress, may have accomplished the feat of having been arrested more often — 63 times — than anyone else in Central Virginia.

One reason she has been arrested so frequently, it appears, is the leniency of judges who are reluctant to sentence her to jail time.

“It’s become a philosophy that you don’t want to put someone in prison for a low-level, low-dollar-amount crime,” Charlottesville lawyer Scott Goodman told the newspaper. “It’s basically treated as a sickness as much as it is a crime these days. If you show any kind of an effort that you’re trying to overcome your addiction, that goes a long way with the courts.”

General District Court Judge Matthew Quatrara recently found her guilty of numerous offenses in Albemarle County, including contempt and check larceny, but he imposed suspended sentences. He did sentence her for 30 days on a charge of driving under the influence, however.

In 2012 she claimed that she had been abducted and raped by a local man who gave her a ride. He served more than two years in jail before his defense produced evidence portraying Steiniger as a fabulist who concocted a tale to anger a boyfriend. She was never charged with perjury. In another case, she stole a nurse’s scooter at the University of Virginia Medical Center. She served no time for that either, although she was ordered to pay restitution.

Steiniger currently faces another 20 charges in Buckingham County relating to identity theft, trading in stolen goods and entering a house to commit assault and battery. Many of her current and past charges also involve drugs.

“Ms. Steiniger,” asked Quatrara at her recent hearing, “what is the longest period you’ve been drug-free?”

“Six months,” she answered.

“I’m happy to see you alive,” said the judge. “When I didn’t see you for a long time, I was concerned that your issues had gotten the best of you and that I was going to read your obituary in the newspaper.”

For purposes of argument, let us grant that Ms. Steiniger has a drug problem and that she needs “help.” How many chances should she be given to redeem herself?

We don’t know from the article how many opportunities she has had to get clean. Did she ever conclude that, given the lack of legal consequences, it was just easier to continue committing petty crimes for easy money than to do the hard work of kicking her addiction? Did society’s “compassion” become a crutch that enabled her to continue her self-destructive ways?

We often hear that jail is a terrible, wasteful place to house drug addicts, alcoholics, and the mentally ill. Really? Sixty-three crimes implies 63 victims along the way — not including an innocent man who spent two years in jail.

How many people does Steiniger have to rob or defraud before society says “enough”?


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Comments

22 responses to “A Life of Low-Level Crime”

  1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “How many chances should she be given to redeem herself?”

    How many chances should we give a diabetic before they redeem themselves…?

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      How many chances should we give Trump before he redeems himself?

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        special case… apparently… he can shoot someone on 5th avenue or grab them in their “you-know-where”, etc.

        Oh, and he is seriously aggrieved to boot!

  2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “How many chances should she be given to redeem herself?”

    How many chances should we give a diabetic before they redeem themselves…?

  3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    In the fictional town of Mayberry, Otis has “his” comfortable cell to come to when he is on one of his frequent binges. Aunt Bee brings him breakfast. He is harmless. The audience laughs.

    It is much different in real life. People like Ms. Steniger are the real-life “Otises”. Jail and court staff refer to them as “frequent flyers.” What to do with them is a quandary. For the most part, they are not violent; they do not pose a physical threat to anyone. Should expensive jail space be used to house them? On the other hand, they are not harmless. They usually have to steal to support their drug addiction. (How Otis got money to buy his moonshine was never clear.) They leave behind victims.

    Jails are generally not set up or staffed to provide treatment services for the mentally ill, alcoholics, or drug addicts. In many circumstances, the folks we are talking about suffer from a combination of two or more of these conditions. One exception that I know about is the Henrico County jail, which has a widely-praised drug treatment program.

    It is true that the attitude of society and the courts has changed in the direction of providing treatment, rather than incarceration, for these people. The emphasis, especially during and after the COVID crisis, has been on diverting non-violent low-level offenders away from the criminal justice system into community treatment programs.

    I suspect that one of the conditions of Ms. Steniger’s numerous suspended sentences was that she enroll in a treatment program run by the local community mental health services program (Chapter 10 board). Another highly touted alternative to incarceration are drug court programs, one of which exists in the Charlottesville/Albemarle area.

    However, professionals providing treatment in this area tell me that individuals assigned to such programs need to want to help themselves in order for them to be effective. I think you do her a disservice with your comment, “Did she ever
    conclude that, given the lack of legal onsequences, it was just easier to continue committing petty crimes for easy money than to do the hard work of kicking her addiction?” From what little I have read and heard from treatment experts, it is often not a matter of just “concluding” to forego taking drugs. Perhaps she did try to kick her addiction and the demons were just too strong.

    One of the dangers, of course, is that the criminal
    behavior of such people will escalate and they will become a threat. It appears this may be the case with Ms. Steniger. Driving under the influence certainly poses a danger to others. The Buckingham County charge of entering a house to commit assault and battery is a serious one and, if convicted, could get her a sentence to the state Department of Corrections (DOC) for a year or more. DOC has drug treatment programs and that might turn out to be the best thing that could happen to her.

    1. Kathleen Smith Avatar
      Kathleen Smith

      She is thinking about survival. Would you employ her? I am sure jail might be a better place for her physical and mental wellbeing. She needs help.

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        No, I would not employ her. She does need help, but I don’t think jail would be safe for her, either physically or mentally.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          re: ” jail would be safe for her, either physically or mentally.”

          I agree.

          1. Jail will be safer for victim #64. PERIOD

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            who is the victim and what happened to them?

        2. Kathleen Smith Avatar
          Kathleen Smith

          Me either. We don’t give these kinds of mental illnesses a chance. Either live like you are living and continue to fail or go to jail, eat and have a place over your head, but your problem hasn’t been fixed. So when you are out of jail, you fail again.

          1. Not Today Avatar

            Right, because people with mental illnesses are thinking clearly/rationally and are a bigger threat to others than themselves. NOT.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            well.. give them an AR…

          3. Not Today Avatar

            Still not a bigger threat to others than themselves. None should be armed tho.

          4. Not Today Avatar

            Still not a bigger threat to others than themselves. None should be armed tho.

  4. “Sixty-three crimes implies 63 victims along the way — not including an innocent man who spent two years in jail.”

    The judge who accepted the word of a serial criminal and sent a man to jail for two years should go to jail for two years in expiation. And his cellmate for two years should be Judge Quatrara.

  5. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    There is a Chelsea in every town. Always has been.

  6. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    If a man really spent 2 years in jail based on her totally false story, wouldn’t 4 years be appropriate as a deterrent? And maybe force her to get straight?
    If you fail to prosecute crime, you get more crime…

  7. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Well, didn’t they hang children for stealing bread in London until they discovered Botany Bay? Gotta make the streets safe for bakers.

  8. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    I got it! Puerto Rico! We bought it; we own it. Let’s move everybody off it. Resettle them in Florida, California, or Texas and just exile our recidivist petty criminals, mentally ill, and drug addicted to Puerto Rico! “There! You’re on your own! Make a life, we’re done.”

    1. I thought that was Baltimore, NYC, Detroit, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, and San Fran?

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Jacksonville, Fort Worth, Fresno, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Tulsa, Colorado Springs, Miami and Bakersfield

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