U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Making Restitution Work - A Historical Perspective

NCJ Number
R F Rhyme; W P O'Connor
Date Published
13 pages
This paper discusses restitution from an historical perspective and describes the application of restitution programs to juvenile offenders as exemplified in the Dane County (Madison, Wisconsin) Youth Restitution Program.
Western legal tradition has sought to mend the social fabric torn by the commisssion of a crime rather than to assuage the personal losses of the victim. In Common Law the victim of a crime could recover goods only by bringing a civil action against the thief after criminal conviction. Concern for crime victims has led to the modern revival of restitution as a remedy for criminal acts. Although restitution provides a means for bringing the offenders closer to understanding the consequences of their actions, (not merely to themselves but to their victims), the practical difficulties in rehabilitative restitution are formidable. These include the criminal character, especially of hardened recidivists, and the complexity of attempts to change behavior. In a major 1977 revision of the Wisconsin Children's Code, alternatives provided for restitution for children who committed delinquent acts resulting in damage to the property or being of another. The court can also order the child to repair damaged property and to participate in a supervised work program. As seen in the experience with the Dane County Youth Restitution Program, success depends on careful program design and effective administration. For maximum impact, a restitution program should begin as soon as possible, due process delays impede this objective. A smooth transition is necessary through intake, assessment, placement, and termination of a case. Therefore, a program requires an extensive job pool, self-defined assessment procedures, and realistic staff case loads. Fair and consistent treatment of offenders by staff, and a plainly written contract between staff and participants are required. Staff competency comes from knowledge of adolescent development and an understanding of their own adolescence. Other program needs include qualified job site supervisors; community support through public education; and a citizen's advisory board for policy guidance and continuing community support. Seven footnotes are appended.