The financial impact of crime on victims is staggering.
* Violent crime (including drunk driving and arson) accounts for $426,000 billion annually, and property crime accounts for $24 billion. (Miller, Cohen & Wiersema, 1996).
* Personal crime is estimated to cost $105 billion annually in medical costs, lost earnings and public program costs related to victim assistance. When pain, suffering, and the reduced quality of life are assessed, the costs of personal crime increase to an estimated $450 billion annually (Miller, et al., 1996).
* Four out of five gunshot victims are on public assistance or uninsured, costing taxpayers an estimated $4.5 billion a year (Office of National Drug Control Policy, 1995).
* Victims pay about $44 billion of the $57 billion in tangible nonservice expenses for traditional crimes of violence. Employers pay almost $5 billion because of these crimes (health insurance bills, sick leave, and disability insurance), and government bears the remaining costs through lost tax revenues and Medicare and Medicaid payments (U.S. News and World Report, July 1, 1996).
When one considers these statistics, the importance of restitution takes on significant meaning. The benefits to victims are clear - they receive economic compensation for losses, they hold the offender accountable, and they see the criminal justice system as responsive to their needs. For offenders, restitution offers the opportunity to comprehend the injury of the offense and the very real consequences to the victim. Restitution also provides offenders with the experience of taking responsibility for the injury they have caused and of being held accountable to the victim and society for the resulting damage.
However, for restitution to be truly meaningful, there must be strict accountability on the part of the offender to pay. Similarly, the system must be accountable for the effective and efficient collection and processing of restitution, and must maintain mechanisms for enforcing the collection of restitution when offenders' repayment becomes delinquent.
Key elements of an effective restitution management process with a focus on the role of probation and parole will be examined in this chapter. Readers will be informed about the following:
* The coordinated interagency approach and victims' involvement in the development of restitution programs.
* Factors that should be considered when assessing and documenting victim loss or an offender's ability to pay.
* The merits of encompassing restitution as an agency value and of incorporating restitution strategies within the case supervision plan.
* Automated collection systems used in three States.
* States that have legislatively authorized approaches to restitution collection.
* Various alternative methods
of collecting restitution used in several probation and parole agencies.
Collection of Restitution - An Agency Value
Unfortunately, many supervising agents do not feel that it is their responsibility to be a "bill collector," and they continue to view the collection of restitution in that context. Compounding this issue is the fact that the collection of restitution often directly competes with the collection of other court-ordered fines and fees, some of which may be used to supplement the budgets of probation and parole departments and pay officers' salaries.
Probation and parole agencies can place the collection of restitution in proper perspective by developing and implementing specific and directive restitution-related policies and procedures that dictate the importance of restitution collection for the individual officers. If restitution collection is encompassed as an agency value, stipulated as first priority in the order of collection of court-ordered fines and fees, and reinforced by the implementation of performance-based measures on restitution management and collection, probation and parole agencies are more likely to see favorable results.
Tarrant County Community Supervision and Corrections Department, Texas
The Tarrant County Community Supervision and Corrections Department's (CSCD) stance on the officer's responsibility for restitution collection is quite clear in its policies and procedures related to probationer payments as stated, in part, below:
Ideally, every probationer would pay all fees on time. In reality, probationers are not likely to do so. Therefore, to maximize collection of fees, all probation officers must accept their responsibilities, be determined to enforce probation conditions and be willing to invest the effort in their casework. Each probationer, regardless of how many different probation officers may supervise or contact them, should experience their universal diligence in collection of fees. The probation officer, who shuns or is casual about the responsibility to collect fees, thwarts the efforts of the Department and those who take the responsibility seriously.
Written policies and procedures help to clarify staff roles and responsibilities. It is clear when reading Tarrant County's policies and procedures that officers are expected to take the order of restitution seriously and not to place it on the back burner when enforcing the conditions of probation. Their comprehensive and detailed policies and procedures related to probationer payments specify the following:
* The payment of fees is of equal importance to any other conditions that the Court may order, and that the probation officer is responsible for monitoring the probationer's payments and using the casework process and supervision plan to motivate and compell the probationer to take steps necessary to make payments as ordered by the Court.
* Restitution collection is to be top priority among all court-ordered fees collected by the Department.
* The steps the probation officer must take when documenting payment or noncompliance with the payment schedule.
* The detailed procedure the officer is to follow when the probationer falls behind on making payments (e.g., discuss the problem with the offender, determine obstacles affecting the offender's ability to pay and incorporate strategies within the supervision plan to overcome the obstacles).
* The action to be taken if a probationer claims that payments were not or cannot be made due to a temporary or permanent medical condition.
* The officer is to document the actions taken to bring the offender into compliance in the event the case is referred back to the court.
The Tarrant County CSCD also holds inservice training for supervision officers on these procedures as well as on strategies for increasing collection of court-ordered fees. A copy of the Tarrant County CSCD polices and procedures for probationer payments is included in Appendix C.
Agencies that implement these
types of policies and procedures will reinforce the message that restitution
collection within their agencies and on the part of individual officers
The Restitution Process
The restitution process extends from the commission of the crime to the postsupervision period. Its effective management is dependent upon the coordination of multiple tasks by numerous professionals in separate agencies and departments within the criminal justice system. Key players in the restitution process include victims, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, probation and parole agents, corrections officials, paroling authorities, and the courts. These professionals, alone or in combination, must coordinate and accomplish numerous tasks comprising the process of criminal restitution which include the following:
* Apprehension and adjudication of the offender.
* Determination of eligibility for restitution.
* Consultation with the victim to determine losses.
* Consideration of restitution in plea negotiations.
* Preparation of presentence report.
* Thorough assessment of defendant's ability to pay.
* Determination of payment schedule.
* Determining the order of restitution and other financial obligations.
* Monitoring and enforcing restitution orders while an offender is on probation, parole, or incarcerated.
* Prevention of offenders' hiding of assets.
* Imposition of restitution conditions following a period of incarceration.
* Application of sanctions for nonpayment.
* Collection of restitution payments.
* Allocation of restitution fines to victim compensation boards.
* Distribution of funds to victims.
* Imposition of available civil
remedies (Burnley and Murray, n.d.).
Most jurisdictions organize their
restitution management operations around one particular agency that maintains
the primary responsibility for the administration and collection of restitution
with a minimum of assistance and cooperation from other agencies. Typically,
this is the probation department; however, in many jurisdictions, the prosecutor,
court administrator, or victim/witness office takes the lead. This type
of management structure prevents restitution from being a systemic responsibility.
Rather than creating a dynamic and ongoing sense of shared and mutual responsibility
among all participants, the process tends to be impossible to coordinate
and impossible to render effective (Burnley and Murray, n.d.).
Coordinated Interagency Approach
The coordinated interagency approach to restitution management, developed by the Victim Assistance Legal Organization (VALOR), is a promising and common sense approach to solving some of the problems which have plagued effective administration of restitution programs for decades.
In the report, Restitution Reform: The Coordinated Interagency Approach, published by the Office for Victims of Crime, Burnley and Murray (n.d.) outline five essential goals in the management of restitution based on the coordinated interagency approach. These goals are closely interrelated and fundamental to the success of a restitution program. They are as follows:
* Effective Communication and Coordination Among Criminal Justice Agencies and Professionals: Effective communication and coordination among criminal justice agencies and personnel are crucial to successful restitution management. A lack of communication affects every aspect of the process and severely hampers any efforts to improve restitution management.
* Clear Definition and Delineation of Restitution Roles: Since restitution involves a multitude of tasks, it is essential that agency roles be clearly defined and acknowledged. The lack of such clarity can lead to duplication of services or failure to provide certain services at all. Neither the victim nor justice is served when the system fails to define and assign the roles involved in restitution in the most efficient and effective manner.
* Efficient and Streamlined Coordination of Restitution Tasks: Restitution tasks must be viewed with a keen eye towards elimination of unnecessary steps and duplication of efforts. The overlapping of restitution tasks - such as preparation of the victim impact statement, or notification of victims regarding case developments - is not only a waste of jurisdictional resources, but harmful to the overall efficiency of the restitution process and insensitive to crime victims. Effective streamlining also requires the assignment of each task to the agency most capable of performing it efficiently. At times, this may require rethinking of procedures or reallocation of resources.
* Routine and Regular Flow of Information and Data: The establishment of a routine flow of restitution information pertains to (1) substantive and procedural information regarding all restitution cases as they progress through the system; and (2) restitution data generated from statistical figures on the status of restitution accounts. It is extremely important for each agency along the criminal justice continuum to be aware of any developments, changes, or problems that have occurred vis-.-vis other agency restitution responsibilities.
* Participation and Accountability
by All Parties to the Process: The goal of accountability refers to the
need for each criminal justice system agency and professional to be willing
to take responsibility for their portion of the restitution process. Restitution
is about taking responsibility - on every level. Key to the establishment
of such responsibility is the recognition of the interdependence of all
components of the criminal justice system. The coordinated interagency
approach provides a climate in which acceptance of responsibility and accountability
by all participants can be realistically achieved.
Victim Involvement in the Development of Restitution Programs
Victims, more than anybody else, are able to provide personal insights into the importance of restitution, as well as any problems they may have faced in receiving their own restitution payments. Agencies seeking to initiate or enhance restitution programs can tap victims' expertise in several ways (National Center for Victims of Crime, 1997b):
* Conduct random victim satisfaction surveys that provide victims with the opportunity to assess the efforts of the agency and/or staff related to restitution.
* Utilize existing agency Victim Advisory Committees to review policies and procedures and make recommendations for improvement.
* Establish a specialized, cross-collaborative
restitution committee or consortium that includes victims as members, for
the purposes of improving approaches to restitution.
For example, the California State Board of Control, which administers the State's victim compensation program, formed a Restitution Committee "to bring together a broad range of criminal justice organizations/entities to address restitution and victim service issues." Representatives come from the following cross-agency/cross-jurisdictional committee memberships:
* State Attorney General's Office.
* Judicial Council.
* California Judge's Association.
* Legislative Analyst's office.
* California District Attorney's Association.
* Chief Probation Officer's Association.
* California Court Clerks Association.
* California Superior Court Clerk's Association.
* California Superior Court Administrators.
* Victim and Witness Coordinating Council.
* Office of Criminal Justice Planning.
* California Department of Corrections.
* California Youth Authority.
The Restitution Committee provides an ongoing forum for member organizations to offer input and ideas regarding proposed legislation, restitution policies and procedures, and victims' needs. Since each member represents a different and unique perspective, the entire Committee benefits from their shared insights, problems, and issues.
Crime victims also need information
that helps them to understand the process of ordering, monitoring, and
collecting restitution in the criminal and juvenile justice systems. An
overview of how all financial obligations are processed (including restitution,
base fines, and other penalties) should be provided to victims. Two excellent
charts developed by the State Board of Control that visually describe the
restitution process in California are included in Appendix C.
Key Elements for the Management and Collection of Restitution
Keeping the concepts discussed above in mind, the following characteristics and components should be considered by probation and parole agencies when implementing promising restitution practices:
* Information should be gathered from the victim during the presentence investigation and prior to parole to estimate the amount of financial loss for use during sentencing and parole hearings. In addition, a good faith effort should be employed when trying to locate victims for restitution payments.
* Once restitution is ordered, written policies should be in place to ensure that restitution is monitored, managed, collected, enforced, disbursed, and stipulated as a priority in the order of collection.
* Agencies should implement automated systems to aid in monitoring, managing, collecting, and disbursing restitution and other victim-related fees and fines.
* Probation officers should incorporate measures within the supervision plan to increase offenders' ability to pay (e.g., help offenders seek employment opportunities, provide referrals to job training classes).
* The agency should have alternative
means available for collecting restitution (e.g., civil remedies, attachment
of assets, garnishment of wages, restitution centers, collection of restitution
while institutionalized, forfeiture of bond money for restitution obligations,
statutory ability to extend supervision for nonpayment, denial of professional
Assessing and Documenting Loss
An accurate and detailed assessment of the extent of the victim's injuries and losses is critical to a fair order of restitution. While victims may have provided initial information on the financial impact of the crime in a victim impact statement provided to the prosecutor's office, additional and unforeseen financial burdens may have been incurred by victims since that time. By gathering or updating victim impact information referring to financial loss at the time of the presentence investigation and prior to parole hearings, probation and parole can ensure that the most accurate information is available when the restitution amount is determined and ordered. Some considerations for guidelines that should be provided in writing to victims include the following:
* Employer statements (letters or affidavits) that document unpaid time off from work the victim took as a result of injuries from the crime or involvement in justice processes.
* Documentation of any workers' compensation claims submitted and/or claims payments received by the victim.
* Copies of bills for services directly related to victims' financial recovery from the crime.
* Any receipts for items or services.
* Documentation that estimates the value of stolen property.
* Photos of valuables that were stolen.
* Copies of any documentation often provided by local law enforcement agencies (e.g., records of serial numbers, photos) that is intended to aid victims in the recovery of stolen property.
* Any law enforcement records that indicate the status of stolen property (e.g., property recovered, recovered but damaged).
* Copies of victims' applications to and/or copies of checks received from the State victim compensation fund.
* Copies of insurance claims and related correspondence between victims and their insurance company, as well as copies of checks victims may have received to cover losses.
When the victim files claims
with the State for compensation due to crime, the offender is still held
accountable. In assessing economic loss to victims as part of a presentence
investigation, probation officers must understand that payment made by
a Compensation Program does not exempt offenders from having to pay. When
a probation officer recommends to the court that restitution be paid, the
officer must consider the amount to be reimbursed to the Compensation Program.
As early as possible, either before or during the presentence investigation, victims should be asked to report information about their losses by completing or updating a financial worksheet, and providing documentation as described above. A sample financial worksheet is included in the model victim impact statement forms found in Appendix B.
The range of these losses can include the following:
* Emergency transportation to the hospital.
* Rape kit examinations that are not immediately paid by a third party.
* All expenses related to the hospital stay, including the room, laboratory tests, medications, x-rays, HIV testing in cases involving the exchange of bodily fluids, and medical supplies.
* Expenses for care provided by physicians - both inpatient and outpatient - medication and medical supplies.
* Fees for physical or occupational therapy.
* Replacement of eyeglasses, hearing aids, or other sensory aid items damaged, destroyed, or stolen from the victim.
* Rental and related costs for equipment used for victims' physical restoration (e.g., wheelchairs, wheelchair ramps, special beds, crutches).
Mental Health Services
* Fees for counseling or therapy for the victim and his/her family members.
* Any costs incurred as a result of the victim's participation in support or therapy groups.
* Expenses for medications that doctors may prescribe for victims to help ease their trauma following a crime.
* Costs associated with burials, i.e., caskets, cemetery plots, memorial services, etc.
* Expenses for travel to plan and/or attend funerals.
Time Off From Work
* To repair damage following property crimes.
* To attend or participate in court or parole proceedings.
* To attend doctors' appointments for injuries or mental health needs directly resulting from the crime.
* Crime scene cleanup.
* Costs of replacing locks, changing security devices, etc.
* Expenses related to child or elder care when victims have to testify in court.
* Relocation expenses.
* Fees incurred in changing banking or credit card accounts.
In addition to losses sustained
as a result of violent crime, losses can also be sustained as a result
of stolen, damaged, or destroyed property, including loss of money due
to insurance or telemarketing scams or fraud. A victim's car could be stolen
and may incur $1,000 in expenses that were not covered by insurance. Resultant
expenses can be cost of repair, insurance deductibles, cost of other transportation
if a car is stolen. These losses are significant and can be listed as compensable
Victimization often results in injuries or losses that are long term in nature. While it is not possible to accurately document such projected expenses, it is possible to document expert opinions as to future financial obligations the victim might incur as a direct result of the crime.
Victims should be advised to seek documentation (a letter or affidavit) from professionals who are providing them with medical or mental health services that offers an estimate of the victims' future treatment needs, as well as related expenses. Such costs can include the following:
* Long-term medical treatment.
* Physical or occupational rehabilitation or therapy.
* Mental health counseling or therapy.
* Time that must be taken off from work to receive any of the above services.
The justice professional responsible
for assessing victims' restitution needs should provide this documentation
to the court or paroling authority.
"To Be Determined" Restitution Orders
One of the most significant challenges to assessing victims' losses is the speed in which cases move through the criminal and juvenile justice systems. Plea bargains and related sentencings are often finalized without adequate time to determine victims' financial losses.
Courts should have the option of including "to be determined" restitution orders as part of the sentence in cases that are plea bargained. In California, courts are required by law to impose "to be determined" restitution orders if victims' losses are not fully assessed at the time of sentencing. Once victims' losses are determined, the case is returned to court to officially record the restitution order and establish a payment schedule.
This innovative approach provides
an important opportunity for offender financial accountability in cases
where the only alternative is no restitution order at all.
Assessing the Offender's Ability to Pay
The "other side of the coin"
of victim documentation of financial losses is conducting an assessment
of the offender's ability to pay, in order to recommend an appropriate
restitution payment plan. The responsible justice agency should evaluate
the offender's current and future financial status in making recommendations
about both the amount of restitution as well as the payment schedule.
Issues for consideration include the following:
* Current employment status, including salary, benefits, and pension plans.
* Projections on future employability (that assess the type of job and remuneration offenders might secure).
* Assets not essential to the offender's quality of life (excluding home or automobile ownership), including savings accounts, investments such as stocks, bonds and mutual funds, and income from investment properties.
* Potential contingency funds,
such as State and Federal income tax returns, winnings from lotteries,
Management of Restitution
Even though the payment of restitution is stipulated as a condition of probation and parole supervision, many offenders manage to complete their supervision period without paying the amount owed. This disturbing reality places the credibility of the restitution process, as well as the integrity of the entire criminal justice system, at stake. To help prevent this from happening, probation and parole officers must: (1) take their responsibility for ensuring that restitution is collected seriously, (2) make an effort to instill an understanding in the offender of the critical importance of restitution for the victim and assist offenders in increasing the ability to pay, and (3) take all steps necessary to ensure that the restitution orders are enforced and monies are collected. Agencies can make the restitution management process easier for their officers by using automated systems and by using specialized staff or units for restitution collection.
Studies have shown that increasing
both punitive and nonpunitive enforcement mechanisms can increase the compliance
rate for restitution (Burnley and Murray, n.d.). Findings from a study
conducted by the American Bar Association (ABA), Improving Enforcement
of Court-Ordered Restitution, suggest that higher compliance rates result:
(1) when efforts are made to monitor payments, and (2) when consistent
action is taken to respond to delinquencies. To avoid a pattern of noncompliance,
effective monitoring practices should be initiated so that delinquency
can be detected as soon as it occurs. In the ABA's survey of restitution
directors, the directors reported that delinquency in payment of restitution
occurred at the time of the first payment approximately 50 percent of the
time and at midsentence the remaining 50 percent of the time. Rarely did
noncompliance occur at the end of an offender's sentence (Smith, Davis
& Hillenbrand, 1989). This suggests that early and effective responses
may successfully interrupt a pattern of nonpayment.
Studies show that a separation
between responsibilities for the physical collection of restitution and
monitoring of offenders can be extremely productive in terms of overall
program efficiency. The average probation order contains 18 conditions
of probation. Ideally, probation officers should not be in the position
of supporting offenders in efforts to responsibly comply with restitution
orders while physically collecting the actual payment. The separation of
monetary collection and, if desired, monitoring responsibilities can be
achieved by having two separate agencies handle these tasks, or by having
a separate unit within the probation agency that is established for restitution
purposes (Burnley & Murray, n.d.). It is important, however, that the
primary supervising officer not lose sight of the needs of the victim because
they no longer collect restitution payments. Some jurisdictions deal with
this by having the specialized restitution officer collect payments while
the primary supervising officer continues to have monitoring responsibilities.
Incorporating Restitution Strategies Within the Supervision Plan
When talking to probation and parole officers about restitution, a resounding chorus of "you can't get blood out of a turnip" is often heard. It is true that many times offenders have extreme financial problems and are not able to earn adequate funds to pay full restitution; however, this should not excuse them from their responsibility to reimburse victims. Victims often experience severe financial difficulties as a direct result from the crime committed against them and deserve to receive compensation. Even small payments of $2 per month demonstrate to the victim that the offender and supervising officer take it seriously, that the victim is not forgotten, and that every offender can find a way to pay something.
Regardless of whether the probation or parole agency is directly responsible for physically collecting and disbursing fines and fees, it is the universal responsibility of probation and parole agents to monitor and enforce the collection of restitution when stipulated as a condition of probation or parole. Research suggests that offenders who work, live at a stable address, and attend school are more likely to comply with their restitution orders (Davis & Lurigio, n.d.). Therefore, these and other issues that affect the offender's ability to pay restitution should be considered and addressed by supervising agents when developing the supervision plan. For example, if an offender is unemployed, the initial goal would be to help the offender obtain marketable job skills. Once that goal is accomplished, the plan would be adjusted to concentrate on making the offender a regular payer (Godwin, 1994).
The following section highlights
promising practices that some probation and parole agencies have implemented
to help offenders manage their money and obtain and maintain employment,
thereby, increasing their capacity to pay restitution.
Tarrant County CSCD, Texas - Personal Budgeting Course
The Personal Budgeting Course is a 3-hour course provided through the Education Unit of the Tarrant County Community Supervision and Corrections Department by Consumer Credit Counseling Services. The goal of the course is to assist probationers to improve their budgeting, so that they will be able to pay their court-ordered fees as well as other essential financial obligations. Probationers are referred to the program by their supervising officer if they report an income source that falls in arrears on their court-ordered fees in an amount that is equal to 3 monthly payments.
All probationers are required
to fill out a budget worksheet within 60 days of being placed on probation.
This is used as a reference tool throughout the probationer's supervision
period. A copy of the budget worksheet is included in Appendix C. Prior
to attending the Personal Budgeting Course, the offender completes an updated
budget worksheet that is forwarded to the Education Unit for use during
the course. During the Personal Budgeting Course, probationers analyze
their financial resources to create a manageable budget that takes into
consideration monthly expenses (e.g., housing, food, utilities) as well
as nonmonthly expenses (e.g., car repairs, insurance payments, taxes) and
establish a money management plan. The course also helps probationers identify
strategies for economizing and cutting expenses and provides them with
information on community resources to which individuals can turn for financial
assistance. At the end of the class, the probationer completes another
worksheet which he takes to his supervising officer. The supervising officer
and the probationer then negotiate a payment schedule. The new schedule
is included in the case supervision plan.
Tarrant County CSCD, Texas - Employment Services Program
The Employment Services Program is designed to assist offenders on community supervision in acquiring and maintaining stable, full-time employment and increasing their chances of succeeding under community supervision. This program interacts with other Tarrant County Community Supervision and Corrections Department programs which are currently in place, as well as develops new working relationships with other community agencies, educational institutions, service providers, and Tarrant County employers. In fact, staff of the Tarrant County CSCD Employment Services Program, Fort Worth Independent School District, Texas Workforce Commission, and Texas Rehabilitation Commission are housed in one location (i.e., Resource Center) to enhance the ability of the agencies to work together and share resources to assist offenders in obtaining and maintaining employment.
The Employment Service Program
develops placements in the private and public sectors for employment with
regard to the offender's respective interests, needs, and skill levels.
The Employment Service Program notifies the Supervision Officer of an offender's
activities while s/he is in the employment program. Records are developed
and maintained, and information is gathered from a variety of sources on
local business conditions in relation to openings, expansions, and closures.
This information is shared with other agencies who, in turn, share their
information on job openings with the Employment Services Program. The Employment
Service Program is marketed through public service announcements and multimedia
presentations. Presentations of the Employment Services Program are made
to businesses and service clubs upon request.
Montgomery County Community Supervision and Corrections Department, Texas - Offender Employment Program (OEP)
The Offender Employment Program (OEP) of the Montgomery County Community Supervision and Corrections Department (MCCSCD) is available to any probationer under supervision who needs or wants employment assistance. It is designed to provide life long skills to increase the probationers' success at securing and maintaining employment. The OEP is staffed by a Job Specialist who is responsible for coordinating the program, networking with local businesses, and providing one-on-one assistance to probationers in securing and maintaining employment. Initial assessments and the job readiness training portion of the program typically are handled by the Educational Assistants in the department's Day Resource Center. The OEP is a service offered by the department to augment the other services being provided to the offender while on supervision; therefore, while the probationer is involved in the OEP, s/he is still monitored by their supervising agent.
Referrals for the program are made by supervising officers, and the department director or assistant director following an in-house administrative hearing. The program consists of four main components:
1. An assessment of employability.
2. Classes to teach probationers job readiness skills.
3. Assistance in securing employment.
4. Followup with the probationer and the employer to increase the probability of successful job placement (Brown & Young, 1992).
Once a probationer has secured employment, OEP staff continue to monitor the progress of the probationer for a period of 2 years or until the offender is removed from probation. During this time period, OEP staff is available to counsel probationers who may be having difficulties adjusting to the demands of the job and to help address other employment problems that might arise.
Gainful employment is often the
critical factor in offenders fulfilling their restitution orders. The public
and agency resources invested in such programs can reap myriad benefits,
including an improved and expanded workforce; gainfully employed ex-offenders
who possess new competency and job skills; a reduced burden on taxpayers
who might otherwise be contributing to probationers' livelihood and/or
the costs for re-incarceration that might result from lack of structure
and rehabilitative activities; and, perhaps most important, the payment
of victim restitution that helps victims reconstruct their lives in the
aftermath of crime.
Establishing Offender Sanctions for Nonpayment of Restitution
Agencies responsible for enforcing restitution must also enforce established sanctions for offenders' willful failure to pay, and ensure that offenders under their supervision are aware of the range of possible sanctions. Such sanctions can be lifted in extreme cases where an offender can demonstrate hardships that prevent the maintenance of timely restitution payments; however, in such cases, restitution payment schedules should be adjusted, not abandoned (National Center for Victims of Crime, 1997b).
It is also important that officers understand their obligation to report nonpayment of court- and parole board-ordered restitution in order to assess the reasons for nonpayment, and possibly consider sanctions for offenders in violation of official orders. Victims should be provided the opportunity to have input into the type(s) of sanctions that might be imposed. In addition to the remedies noted above, such sanctions can include the following (National Center for Victims of Crime, 1997b):
* Public/community service employment (both paid and nonpaid).
* Intensive supervision.
* House arrest.
* Electronic monitoring.
* Revocation of supervision to
incarceration (including minimum security institutions and work release
Automating the Restitution Process
Automation can relieve many of the burdens associated with management and collection of restitution. Manual methods of managing restitution can be extremely cumbersome - often involving the use of color-coded ledger sheets for the recording of different types of revenue collected, the use of carbon paper, a lengthy correction process in the event that an error is made on an official ledger sheet, and hand stamping of receipts with the official seal of the agency. The cycle never ends - often contributing to keeping restitution collection and enforcement at a low priority (Beatty, Frank, Lurigio, Seymour & Macgargle, 1994).
Automation can enhance the restitution process by doing the following:
* Reducing the amount of staff time needed to manage and collect restitution.
* Automatically generating letters of reminder or bills to offenders related to restitution and other court-ordered fees.
* Automatically generating letters to victims informing them about the restitution process, the status of the payments owed to them, and other available services.
* Increasing the ability of probation and parole officers, supervisors, and department administrators to access information on the status of an individual offender or of a group of offenders (e.g., all offenders supervised by a particular agent or unit, all offenders ordered to pay restitution throughout the State).
* Enabling agencies to prepare statistical reports quickly and easily to analyze and report their progress or results (e.g., collection rates).
While a number of probation and
parole agencies are turning to automated systems to manage restitution,
this section will focus on systems in place or being implemented in Florida
and Utah. The automated billing system used by the Washington Department
of Corrections also will be discussed.
Florida Department of Corrections - Court-Ordered Payment System
In May 1991, the Florida Department of Corrections implemented its Court-Ordered Payment System (COPS) to accurately track and simplify the collection of court-ordered payments. The system started as a pilot in Gainesville, Florida and was fully implemented throughout the State of Florida by November 1993. Prior to the implementation of COPS, the department relied on a manual process for managing and collecting restitution. According to agency administrators, the labor-intensive manual accounting system was inadequate and resulted in a wide disparity of practices and procedures and a general loss of system control.
The Court-Ordered Payment System has given the Florida Department of Corrections the means to do the following:
* Automate the collection and receipting process of offender payments.
* Provide an audit trail.
* Expedite the disbursement of offender payments to victims and other payees.
* Establish payment schedules as defined by the orders of supervision.
* Disburse offender payments equitably among all victims and other payees within 48 hours of being collected.
* Generate reports and statistical
information on the status of the collection of court-ordered payments in
Some of the main characteristics
and elements of COPS are highlighted in Figure 3-1.
Figure 3-1: Characteristics/Elements of COPS
1. Automated collection system is located on the Department of Corrections mainframe computer and linked to the offender's criminal history and supervision/inmate record.
2. Innovative system provides court-ordered payment information not only to all 155 probation offices throughout the State of Florida but also to 51 major institutions, 32 community correctional centers, and 43 road prisons, work camps, and forestry camps.
3. Offender's obligation and payment history while on supervision is readily available by computer terminal to prison officials if the offender is later sent to prison. The same is true for offenders released from prison to post-release supervision.
4. Offenders bring in one payment instrument (must be a guaranteed form of payment, i.e., a money order) that is disbursed to victims and other payees according to the established payment schedules in COPS.
5. Governmental checks are disbursed to victims and other payees, eliminating any possibility of victims having to deal with worthless checks from offenders.
6. The system provides a method
for heightened caseload management awareness with the automated tracking
of restitution and other court-ordered payments and provides the officer
with immediate and accurate documentation for court proceedings and administrative
With reference to startup costs,
the Florida Department of Corrections reports that the mainframe system
was already in place. Software was developed by the Department of Corrections'
Management Information Systems and Management Systems Development with
the collaboration of the Department of Corrections Probation and Parole
Program Office. Funding for the project came from the State of Florida's
General Revenue Fund. Once COPS was implemented, the Department began collecting
a statutorily-mandated 4 percent surcharge on all court-ordered obligations
collected through the system. The surcharge is paid by the offender in
addition to the amount ordered by the sentencing authority. The surcharge
is used by the department to help defray the costs of processing payments
Utah Department of Corrections - Offender Obligation System
The Utah Department of Corrections is in the process of implementing a new automated system, the Offender Obligation System, for managing the restitution process throughout the State. Prior to implementation of the Offender Obligation System, each of the seven regional probation and parole offices in Utah managed the restitution process by using a Wang computer system, running a financial information database, to maintain restitution collection and disbursement information. The Wang system used a central processing unit controlling "dumb" terminals. The money collected in each region was deposited in a local bank and each region was responsible for issuing checks to victims.
While this system was reported to have served the Department well overall, several disadvantages to the system were noted by the Department that affected the quality of services to victims:
* The regions were totally independent of each other and the Wang system was not networked for communication between regions. Due to different versions of software and program code "fixes" implemented over the years to address region-specific problems, electronic information from one region was not compatible with another.
* As offenders and victims moved around the State, payment histories and addresses had to follow by paper in offender case files, notes, and phone calls. At times, this type of paper trail would result in overpayment, underpayment, and lost information.
* Smaller regional offices had a difficult time maintaining enough staff to separate money handling, bookkeeping, and balancing duties required by department auditing policies.
* Offenders did not receive monthly bills or statements, and often did not know how much restitution had been paid, or was owed. Agents had to rely on the Restitution Technician in their region for information on case status, which could be a slow process. When offenders were not reminded of restitution owed on a regular basis, restitution was either placed at a low priority or ignored by offenders until pressured to pay by agents.
* Although the Utah Department of Corrections is responsible for offenders both in prison and on parole, historically, there has been poor coordination of restitution collection efforts between them. This was due, in large part, to the inability of the separate electronic systems to communicate.
* The old system was unable to
combine payments from multiple offenders for a single recipient (i.e.,
victim) into one check from within or among the region(s). Large chain
stores and other statewide businesses would receive multiple checks from
each region - one for each offender who owed them restitution.
The Offender Obligation System was designed to address and correct these problems. One of the most beneficial aspects of the new system is its ability to communicate among regional offices, as well as with other State systems. This has helped to substantially decrease past problems associated with overpayment, underpayment, and misinformation. All payments made by an offender while on supervision or while institutionalized are handled by the Offender Obligation System. In short, the new system allows for the following:
* Probation and parole to access court ordered and sentencing information from the court.
* The court to access information related to offenders' payment status.
* Probation and parole officers and supervisors to easily access the payment history of an offender (or group of offenders) from any PC on the network.
* Victims to call the local region
and get immediate information on the offender's status, even if the offense
was adjudicated in another region.
In addition, the Offender Obligation System has simplified and streamlined the process for updating offender and victim's records (e.g., address changes). Since the program and its data are centralized and networked, any changes are reflected instantly across the system.
To serve as a reminder, offenders receive a monthly statement that shows their account status and the amount due. An envelope also is enclosed for offenders to mail in their payments. Offenders are able to submit personal checks for payment; however, checks are held for clearance until they are credited to an offender's account. If a check does not clear, the Offender Obligation System notifies the supervising agent so appropriate and prompt action can be taken.
Rather than each region depositing money in a local bank, a single bank account is used for all deposits and disbursements, thus, making balancing and audit functions quicker and easier. Once the offender's account has money in it, the program uses the payment schedule established by the supervising agent and distributes the money to the recipient accounts linked to the offender. A disbursement program then prints a single check to each recipient, showing offender(s) and account information on the check stub. Restitution has been given the highest priority among court-ordered fees and is collected first.
To prepare for the new system, the Department's management information system staff were retrained, and new programming staff were hired. New equipment with networking capabilities was purchased and installed across the State. Beginning in 1993, the Department began replacing the "dumb" terminals of the Wang system with a Unix based Client/Server system. Each region is a Local Area Network with its own server(s). The regions are joined in a Wide Area Network across the State. Individuals in the regional offices work on IBM based PCs using the Microsoft Windows environment. The Offender Obligation System is being developed using the Informix Database and Powerbuilder front end for Windows compatibility.
Agency administrators report
that all funding for the Offender Obligation System originated from Department
budget funds. Figure 3-2 shows a general breakdown of project costs and
funding for the system.
Figure 3-2: Costs of Utah's Offender Obligation System
Amount Source Purpose
Purchase 4 H.P. Unix Servers and 24
Fund Network Servers with software and licenses
Division Hardware for entire Department - PCs,
Funds printer, etc. The major portion, but not all,
was for Field Operations.
Software Contracting - Offender Obligation
System and PSI only. The Department has
an additional $456,000 in budgeted funds to
complete these two systems, making a total
Due mostly to the initial hardware costs, larger regions still do not have PCs for all staff. Each region, based on its budget status, decides how much to spend on additional hardware/software. Also, each region is being asked to provide personnel for service on committees for development and implementation of the program and training. These "volunteers" maintain their full case management and work responsibilities, doing committee work when possible. The Committee has "spent" an estimated 15,000 hours developing and implementing the program.
One new feature of the system
to be tested is the Division of Finance FINDER Program. The FINDER Program
is a result of Utah Code Annotated 59-10-529 which allows the Department
of Corrections, in conjunction with the State Tax Commission, to seize
an offender's Utah tax refund if s/he owes restitution. In the past, program
administrators report that the FINDER Program has been used inconsistently
by individual agents. 1997 was the first time the names of all offenders
who owe restitution were sent to the Tax Commission automatically by a
report prepared by the OOS.
Washington Department of Corrections
The Washington Department of Corrections operates a highly successful system for restitution collection that is based upon functions similar to credit card billings. A monthly billing process helps some offenders to budget victim restitution as they would any other financial obligation. It has proven effective in increasing offenders' victim restitution payments.
The Washington DOC offers the following guidelines for program implementation:
* An accounting system is an integral component of the overall billing process, and should include processes to document and provide receipts for offenders' payments.
* Legislation may be necessary that requires the entity responsible for disbursement of restitution payments to establish a monthly billing process.
* If a clerk's office is responsible for disbursement, a monthly billing process should be established with the correctional or paroling authority responsible for monitoring restitution payments.
* The agency bills the offender on a monthly basis.
* Policies should be established that clarify and direct the filing and accounting process.
* Credit cards may be accepted as payment for legal financial obligations. Any costs incurred related to credit card payments (such as interest) are the responsibility of the offender.
* Care and caution should be
taken to establish an internal audit process that provides safeguards and
protects agencies that accept payments from offenders.
Westchester County Adult Probation Department
In 1991, the Westchester County,
New York Department of Probation established an Economics Sanctions Unit,
a division of the probation department specifically responsible for the
collection of restitution. Payments from probation are mailed to the unit,
and restitution accounts are monitored by the accounting staff. If there
are problems with payments, the accounting staff notifies the offender's
probation officer. Probation officers working within the Economics Sanctions
Unit receive individualized and specialized training on restitution collection,
which is considered a top priority by all involved personnel. The Unit
is designed to serve the needs of both offenders and victims (Burnley and
Restitution and Employee Proficiency
While the elimination of collection
responsibilities benefits probation monitoring, it is still essential that
probation officers be responsible for monitoring offender restitution.
For example, probation officers in Westchester County and Alexandria, Virginia
are evaluated, in part, on how well they manage restitution cases. Although
probation officers are not collection agents, the pivotal roles they play
in galvanizing offenders to positive, productive, and socially responsible
behavior are crucial to restitution collection (Burnley and Murray, n.d.).
Restitution and Victim Compensation
In an article entitled "Restitution: A National Priority," National Association of Crime Victims Compensation Boards Executive Director Dan Eddy (1995) offered an excellent overview of restitution's effect on victim compensation programs (pp. 2-3):
All 50 States, plus D.C., Guam and the Virgin Islands, now operate crime victim compensation programs. While each State functions independently, under its own State law, the programs tend to be very similar in terms of their eligibility requirements and basic types of compensable expenses. All of the States will pay for medical expenses, counseling and lost wages, as well as for funerals and lost support for deceased victims' families. And all of the programs require victims to be "innocent" of criminal activity or misconduct, and to report crimes and cooperate with criminal justice agencies (though some programs waive these requirements in some circumstances). Major differences in the programs lie in their relative sizes, with some States having staffs of only two or three running their programs (the average size is about 10), and in the dollar levels of benefits that are provided, with maximums ranging from $5,000 in several States to $46,000 and $50,000 in a few others (the median maximum is $20,000).
Forty-three programs depend in whole or in part on offender fees to fund their compensation programs, with most of this number paying for both benefits to victims and administrative costs from these fees. . .. Faced with mounting fiscal demands, many States have instituted various cost-control measures, such as limits on mental health counseling, or the payment of medical bills at a reduced percentage. States are also searching closely for collateral sources of payment, such as private insurance, public benefits, and restitution.
Because an effective restitution recovery effort requires significant amounts of staff time, and because many compensation programs are short-staffed already, restitution income has not been a large source of funds for compensation programs thus far. The programs are largely dependent on others in the criminal justice system to perform their responsibilities in seeking, ordering, and collecting restitution, and they generally rely on the victims themselves to reimburse the program when the restitution received is for expenses already paid for by the program (Eddy, 1995).
But a number of States are finding
that a modest investment of administrative resources can reap significant
rewards. Dan Eddy cites Iowa as an example; "with only one person working
full-time on pursuing restitution recovery, it recoups from offenders about
15% of the money it awards to victims. . .. Iowa is perhaps the best example
of a State that has embarked on a serious and systematic effort to maximize
its restitution recovery. By identifying "key players in the restitution
arena, and then working closely with them to make sure that restitution
orders are sought, obtained, and enforced, Iowa has demonstrated clearly
that restitution can be an important component of a State's overall budget
plan" (Eddy, 1995).
The collaborative, multidisciplinary approach taken by Iowa's Crime Victim Compensation Program includes the following processes (Eddy, 1995):
* A letter is sent to the prosecutor noting that the victim has applied for compensation and requesting that restitution be sought for the victim's losses.
* When the compensation claim is approved, another letter is sent to the clerk of the court to track case status and related restitution orders; if no restitution was ordered, the prosecutor is asked to seek an amendment to the sentence.
* Once restitution has been ordered, Iowa's restitution specialist locates the defendant's whereabouts through the Department of Corrections database, and then communicates with corrections officials or with parole officers to inform them that the compensation program expects restitution to be forwarded to it.
* Regular direct correspondence to offenders reminds them of their obligation to pay, and makes clear that the compensation program will continue to monitor the offender's payments.
* Delinquency letters are sent to the defendant, prosecuting attorney, and parole supervisors when defendants fail to pay, and additional penalties are requested.
* The program also utilizes garnishment of offenders' wages as well as employer agreements for payroll deductions to recapture the amounts it has paid to victims.
* Incarcerated offenders can have the amount of restitution orders deducted automatically from their accounts and forwarded to the compensation program.
* Through an agreement with the
Department of Revenue and Finance, delinquent defendants' income tax refunds
can be offset or seized to fulfill restitution orders; the program has
even seized a lottery award from a lucky offender!
Eddy (1995) explained that this promising practice in restitution collection has been aided considerably by several legislative changes:
* The compensation program is specifically listed as an eligible recipient in the restitution statute so a court can order the defendant to reimburse the program directly (after paying the victim for losses not covered by the compensation program).
* The prosecutor is authorized to attach a restitution lien to a defendant's property or other assets at the time of indictment, so that those assets can't be divested prior to conviction.
* All restitution orders are entered as civil judgments, so that the victim and/or the compensation program can execute the judgment for nonpayment of debt.
This cross-agency effort has
served to increase funds for victim restitution and compensation to collaboratively
work with justice agencies to enforce restitution orders and to hold offenders
Improving the Rates of Collection: State Laws
Many promising practices and strategies that individually and collectively improve the rate of restitution collections have been authorized in recent years by State law. The National Center for Victims of Crime's (1996) 1996 Victims' Rights Sourcebook: A Compilation and Comparison of Victims' Rights Legislation summarizes a number of States' legislatively authorized approaches to restitution collection:
* Alabama: District attorneys may establish a "restitution recovery division." The court may transfer any order to pay victims' restitution, court costs, or other court imposed payments which are in default to a district attorney's restitution recovery division and must, at the time of transfer, assess an additional collection fee of 30 percent. The district attorney's office keeps 75 percent of that collection fee, with the remaining 25 percent transferred to the court. The district attorney and court are also authorized to contract with private entities for collection.
* Arizona: The State charges an $8.00 fee for offenders who wish to pay their restitution obligations in installments.
* Delaware: The court may hold an offender's drivers license as security for payment of restitution or other costs or assessments. If the offender fails to pay as ordered, the driver's license is suspended.
* Florida and Alabama: The court can issue an income deduction order at the time it orders restitution.
* Kansas and Arizona: Both States require that any payment by the State to the defendant, including tax refunds, shall be paid first to satisfy restitution obligations.
* Massachusetts: Victims have the right to receive a copy of the schedule of restitution payments, and the name and telephone number of the official responsible for supervising payments.
* Minnesota: An offender who is ordered to pay more than $500 in restitution is to file an affidavit of financial disclosure with the correctional agency investigating his/her financial resources.
* New Mexico: When a prisoner recovers financially from a claim against the State, any money paid to satisfy the claim is to be first applied to restitution orders.
* New Jersey: Information from the presentence report concerning the defendant's financial resources is made available on request to the victim compensation board or to any officer authorized to collect payment on an assessment, restitution or fine. New Jersey also charges offenders a $1.00 transaction fee for restitution payments, to be used to develop computerized tracking systems.
* Oregon: The court can report any default in the payment of restitution to the consumer reporting agency.
* Washington: Individualized monthly billings and weekly notice of payments by offenders are provided by the county clerks to the Department of Corrections.
* Wisconsin: The State charges a five percent surcharge on the offender for administrative costs related to the collection of restitution, court costs, attorneys' fees, fines, and related costs.
Additional information about
these model laws is available from the National Center for Victims of Crime's
Department of Public Policy.
Alternative Methods of Collecting Restitution
At times, it becomes necessary to employ innovative and more controlled methods for collecting restitution when offenders fail to pay as scheduled. For example, in the State of Washington, the Department of Corrections can extend parole of the offender for 10 years after the end of the formal supervision period for the purpose of collecting restitution (Beatty et al., 1994).
In addition to statutory ability to extend supervision for nonpayment of restitution, other alternative methods for collecting monetary restitution include the following:
* Civil remedies.
* Attachment of assets.
* Garnishment of wages.
* Restitution centers.
* The acceptance of credit card payments.
* Forfeiture of bond money for restitution obligations.
* Collection of restitution while the offender is institutionalized, as well as once placed on parole.
* Holding parents or legal guardians
liable for restitution orders resulting from their children's delinquent
Civil Judgments, Attaching Assets, Garnishing Wages
According to statistics from the National Center for Victims of Crime, in 1991, 22 States allowed restitution to be enforced as a civil judgment. In most of these States, once there has been a default in payment, a civil judgment can be enforced by placing a lien on the offender's real property, garnishing his/her wages, attaching his/her assets, or freezing his/her bank accounts.
The Maricopa County Adult Probation Department in Phoenix, Arizona requires probationers enrolled in the intensive supervision program and the work furlough program to endorse their paycheck and sign them over to the probation department. Another check is then issued to the offender, minus the payment toward victim restitution. Probationers enrolled in the day reporting program also can be subject to this requirement.
Throughout Colorado probation departments train their officers to examine the entire financial situation of offenders when looking at issues concerning their ability to pay restitution. For example, if an offender owes restitution and owns expensive, non-necessity items (e.g., television, compact disc player), then the probation officer can ask the judge to order the offender to sell their possessions to pay restitution to the victim(s).
Also, in Colorado, offenders
who owe more than $2,000 in restitution are required, as a condition of
probation, to submit their income tax return to their probation officer.
If the offender is entitled to a tax refund, the probation officer can
require the offender to pay that amount toward his/her restitution obligation.
Forfeiture of Bond Money
In Westchester County, New York, when a "Violation of Probation" is filed as a result of failure to pay restitution, the probation officer can request bail. The officer then suggests the court set bail in the amount of the owed restitution, if the amount is not "unreasonable." In the accompanying report to the court, the court is advised that if the violation is sustained and the probationer is willing to assign the bail money as payment of restitution, the probation department would recommend that probation be continued, or, in some cases, be terminated. The report recommends alternative sentences for probationers who will not assign bail money. The available alternatives include an upward modification of the order to include a graduated sanction such as "shock time," community service, or possible electronic monitoring. In some instances, a recommendation of revocation and a sentence of incarceration are made.
In California, the clerks of
courts are required by law to apply bail money, after an offender's conviction,
toward the restitution order, the restitution fine, and court costs before
returning any portion of the money to the defendant. This law does not
apply to bail payments made by individuals other than the defendant.
Restitution centers are another
option used in some States for collecting restitution from offenders. Generally,
restitution centers, such as the ones operated in Texas, house offenders
for a period of 6 months to 1 year while they go to work in the community.
The director of the center receives the offender's wages and disburses
portions of it for expenses, fines, and restitution according to the predetermined
priority (Lawrence, 1990). Some States that have restitution centers include
South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
Collections in Institutions
The California Department of Corrections (CDC) has implemented an Inmate Restitution Fine Collections System that enables the department to deduct 20 percent of inmate wages and other trust account deposits to pay court-ordered restitution. This amount is forwarded to the State Board of Control Restitution Fund. This fund provides reimbursement to qualified victims for expenses incurred as a result of the crime committed against them, such as medical costs, burial costs, and counseling. Since its inception in November 1992, this system has resulted in the collection of over $9 million from inmate wages and trust account deposits. CDC's Victim Services Program staff also facilitate voluntary restitution payments made by inmates and parolees, as well as monies derived from annual inmate fundraisers.
Through the Financial Responsibility
Program, the Federal Bureau of Prisons encourages each sentenced inmate
to meet his/her legitimate financial obligations, including restitution.
As part of the initial classification process, staff assist the inmate
in developing a financial plan for meeting his/her obligations and, at
subsequent program reviews, consider the inmate's efforts to fulfill those
obligations as indicative of the inmate's acceptance and demonstrated level
Acceptance of Credit Cards for Payment
The Court Administrator's Office
in Stearns County, Minnesota accepts credit card payments for court-ordered
fines and fees, including restitution. To begin accepting that form of
payment, the Court Administrator's Office got permission from the local
judge and the county commissioners. Arrangements were made with a local
bank, and the office now accepts MasterCard, Visa, and Discover Card. The
Court Administrator's Office absorbs the user fee charged by the bank for
use of credit cards, which is generally covered by the interest earned
on the account. Once an offender offers a credit card for payment of restitution,
and it is authorized by the bank, it is an immediate "capture" of funds
for the Court Administrator's Office.
The California State Board of
Control has implemented a "10% Rebate Program" that provides rebates to
counties that remit restitution to the Restitution Fund, used to compensate
victims of crime in California. The intent of the rebate is to provide
an incentive to the counties that collect restitution fines and orders.
Assembly Bill 817, passed in August 1995, requires counties to use the
rebate to further collection efforts and not to enhance general government
budgets. This rebate is in addition to the existing statutes that allow
counties to recover up to a maximum of 10 percent of the fine for their
costs associated with the administration and collection of restitution.
This program represents the first time a revenue sharing tool has been
implemented between a victims' compensation agency and local criminal justice
agencies (State Board of Control, n.d.).
Converting Restitution Order to Community Service
In extreme cases where offenders are truly indigent and unable to pay restitution, another option is to have offenders perform community service hours in lieu of paying restitution. Victims can have input into the type and location of the community service performed, which is a truly restorative justice practice. Offenders may perform direct services for the victim to repair the damage caused by their actions or perform their community service hours for a favorite charity of the victim.
In Minnesota, the Dakota County
Community Corrections Department maintains a restitution fund that is used
to pay victims of juvenile offenders. The juvenile offenders perform community
service hours and receive minimum wage credit for the hours they work.
The "money" the youth earn is then taken from the restitution fund and
paid directly to the victims.
Reimbursing Victims of Deceased Offenders
In December 1996, officials in
Lehigh County, Pennsylvania decided to pay more than $41,000 to 61 crime
victims whose restitution had not been fully paid and whose perpetrators
had died. Some of the cases dated back over 20 years. The money being used
to reimburse these victims came from the revenue of a local recycling center,
jointly operated by the city and county. Juvenile offenders of the Juvenile
Probation Department in Allentown, Pennsylvania work at the center as part
of their community service sentence. The youth "earn" the equivalent of
minimum wage salary for the hours they work, which is then paid to victims
in cases where restitution has been ordered. Money to reimburse the victims
comes from the revenue the city and county gets from recyclables. Due in
part to the increased value of newsprint, recycling revenue was higher
than expected over the past few years, thus creating a surplus of money.
In an effort to encourage an appropriate use for the extra money, the probation
department presented the innovative plan to reimburse victims of deceased
offenders to county officials, who enthusiastically supported the idea
Many States have passed laws that hold parents or legal guardians liable for restitution orders resulting from their children's delinquent activities (National Center for Victims of Crime, 1997b):
* Liability is "joint and several," which means that if the child is unable to fulfill his/her restitution obligations, the parent or guardian fully shares in the responsibility. (In some jurisdictions this can also mean that if multiple offenders are convicted, they are all obliged to pay the full amount.)
* Most laws provide for limits to monetary liability, which can be determined based upon the severity of the crime, whether or not a person or property was injured in the crime, and whether or not a firearm was used in the commission of the crime.
* State laws vary as to parents' or guardians' liability for restitution orders once the child reaches age 18. Existing options include termination of orders, enforcement of orders until restitution is fully paid, and allowing victims to convert joint and several liability orders to civil judgments.
* Some laws contain stipulations
that base joint liability on a parent's or guardian's "ability to pay,"
and provide that they provide clear proof of why they are unable to pay
the restitution order.
Parental liability laws are not without controversy. They are based upon the premise that parents' failure to adequately supervise or control their child contributed to the youth's delinquent activities. Some critics point out that many good parents' ongoing attempts to monitor their children's activities are thwarted by a child's mental illness, use of drugs, and/or the lure of gangs. Some restorative justice advocates believe parental liability laws reduce the personal accountability of youthful offenders by mandating that their parents share responsibility for their delinquent actions. Others believe society should focus first on providing supportive services to the families of at-risk children, which include parenting classes and family therapy (National Center for Victims of Crime, 1997b).
On the other hand, victims and
their advocates express frustration at juvenile restitution orders that
remain unpaid, and that are often expunged when the child turns 18. They
believe that parental liability laws offer an important option that increases
the likelihood of receiving restitution to which they are entitled (National
Center for Victims of Crime, 1997b).
Processing Unclaimed Victim Restitution
Courts and probation agencies may have cases where restitution is ordered and collected, but the victim cannot be located. In such instances, following duly diligent efforts to locate the victim and after a prescribed period of time (2 to 3 years), restitution payments should be provided to the following (National Victim Center, 1997b):
* Any State-level restitution fund.
* The State's victim compensation program.
* Victim services fund in the
county from which the restitution order is derived.
Restitution plays a key role in the victim's reconstruction in the aftermath of a crime. Granted, restitution cannot undo the damage done by the offender, but it can, in some small way, help the victim and hold the offender accountable. An offender's failure to pay restitution should not be treated as a minor technical violation of probation or parole. By implementing strategies discussed in this chapter, probation and parole may discover that it is, indeed, possible to "squeeze blood out of a turnip."