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Serving Victims

The people who are the most interested in seeing restitution collected, and the most likely to notice when restitution is not paid, are the victims themselves. They are also likely to have questions about who is responsible for collecting restitution, what avenues are available to collect restitution, and whether they as victims have any ability to enforce a restitution order themselves.

Informing victims about restitution orders.

The California Victim Compensation Program and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services, have developed an easy-to-read Guide for Victims that includes information about the process of collecting restitution. It explains how restitution is collected from offenders who are incarcerated or on supervision and who a victim should contact if he or she is not receiving restitution.

More concise brochures have been developed by: the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Corrections Services; the Dakota County, Minnesota, County Attorney's Office; and the New York State Office of Victim Services.

Another format for presenting restitution information to victims is a Frequently Asked Questions, like this Restitution FAQ developed by the Larimer County, Colorado District Attorney’s Office.

Informing victims about civil judgment processes.

State law usually permits a restitution order to be enforced as a civil judgment. In some states, this option is available immediately; more commonly, an outstanding restitution order is converted to a civil judgment at the time the defendant is released from supervision.

Victims typically need additional information about using the civil process to enforce their restitution orders. The process of asset discovery, obtaining a lien, or garnishing wages, can be confusing. A separate brochure on collecting restitution through the civil process, such as the one developed by the Prosecuting Attorney's Office in Eaton County, Michigan, or the District Attorney's Office in San Diego County, California, can be helpful.

Jurisdictions should also identify an agency or individual who can answer victims' questions about civil enforcement of restitution orders, such as the prosecutor's office or the victim compensation program.

Dedicating staff to victim communication.

Victims need to know who they can talk to at every stage of the process after restitution is ordered so that they can be updated on the restitution order’s status and about the agency in charge of collecting it.

Larimer County, Colorado directs victims to contact their Restitution Coordinator whose job description includes informing, supporting, and educating the victim throughout the restitution process. Lancaster County, Pennsylvania directs victims to speak with a Restitution Advocate.

Vermont has a victim liaison in its Restitution Unit to inform victims about the process and ensure that they receive payments in a timely manner (Making Restitution Real, pg 40).   

It is important that brochures, websites, and personal communications clearly inform victims that they must keep their contact information updated with their victim advocate and then with the agency responsible for restitution collection. Montana, Maricopa County, Arizona, and Colorado’s websites explicitly tell victims to keep contact information current.

Victims can determine which agency they should be in contact with if they are provided with a restitution contact list for victims like the one in California’s Brochure on Collecting Restitution.

Locating victims.

Too often restitution collected from an offender is never disbursed to the victim. This failure to make restitution real occurs when agencies do not have current contact information for the victim, so states should ensure that a) victims know their responsibility to keep that information updated, and b) agencies escalate their efforts to locate the victims.

California’s Restitution Money Protection Bill, which was signed into law in 2013, requires that restitution collection agencies pay due diligence in attempting to locate and distribute money to victims, who have moved or are attempting to remain hidden. If reasonable efforts to contact the victim have been made, and the restitution remains unclaimed, the money goes into the Victim Restitution Fund.

Maryland’s Department of Parole and Probation addressed their restitution backlog by creating Restitution Units within their Victims Services office in order to track down victims to whom payments had been made.

Skip tracing techniques and search engines used to locate offenders can also be used to locate victims who have unclaimed restitution.

Restitution collection agencies should know that some victims, including those of domestic violence, remain threatened by the offender long after sentencing, and may be put at risk by government agency attempts to contact them. The American Probation and Parole Association published a fact sheet on victim notification which includes safety precaution tips.

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.