Setting the Framework for Restitution
As a first step to increasing the collection of restitution, agencies must commit themselves to improvement. There must be a culture of agency accountability and support for collections.
National organizations are leading the way:
The American Probation and Parole Association has issued a position paper on Offender Accountability for Victim Restitution.
Pew Center on the States and the Council of State Governments recently issued Sentencing, Corrections and Public Safety: Guiding Principles for Crime Victims and Survivors in America, which includes the importance of offender compliance with restitution orders.
Components of the Framework
Incorporating restitution collection into the agency mission statement.
Incorporating the collection of victim restitution into an agency's mission statement can help to align policies and processes to its implementation. We've collected several mission statements as examples.
Issuing a clear directive to courts.
Because restitution orders are issued by judges, and often collected by court employees, a clear directive to court personnel setting a tone of commitment to collections can have a powerful effect.
The Michigan Supreme Court, as part of its effort to improve collection, issued an administrative order to establish and require compliance with collections requirements. In that order, the court stated "Enforcing court orders, including financial sanctions, is a responsibility of the courts that, if done effectively, enhances the courts' integrity and credibility while providing funds to assure victims are made whole and support law enforcement, libraries, the crime victims' rights fund, and local governments."
Florida's 9th Circuit provides a local example. In 2009, the Chief Justice issued an administrative order setting out procedures for the collections court program.
Setting benchmarks for collection.
As the Conference of State Court Administrators observed in a 2008 white paper, "The assessment of court performance serves as a basis for organizational change and as a means for continuous improvement of court operations and programs."
The National Center for State Courts has led the way in helping courts implement performance measures, through the development of CourTools, a set of balanced and realistic performance measures that are practical to implement and use. Among the 10 performance measures is Measurement 7: Collection of Monetary Penalties. NCSC also provides an accompanying analysis template in Excel.
Maricopa County's Adult Probation Department provides an example of setting benchmarks for restitution, as part of its 2011 Strategic Plan.
Multnomah County, Oregon, provides an example of a local program measuring its collection performance and making that information public.
Dedicating personnel to collections.
The use of dedicated staff can be key to improving financial compliance. For example, the award winning Financial Compliance Unit in Maricopa County's Adult Probation Department employs 14 full-time collectors. Those officers review individuals' assets and obligations at the first probation contact, set up payment plans, and hold offenders accountable.
Similarly, Colorado credits its increased collections to the creation of a Court Collections Investigator program. Collections investigators meet with defendants to problem solve to promote payment of restitution and other court debt, gather information about the offender's ability pay, and work to establish short, workable payment plans.
Ongoing training and support for those doing collections work can increase dedication and lessen fatigue. For example, Maricopa County holds monthly meetings of collections personnel.
Michigan's Court Collections Program Requirements (Component 1) include the dedication of staff to collections activities. They provide details to implement that recommendation, including the duties of such staff.
Even within a single office, the dedication of personnel to collections can be important.
This toolkit was produced by the National Center for Victims of Crime under cooperative agreement 2009-SZ-B9-K006, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this document are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Copyright © 2011 National Center for Victims of Crime. All rights reserved.