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(Special to the American Press)

(Special to the American Press)

Victims' restitution needs reform

Last Modified: Monday, January 13, 2014 2:11 PM

It is right and just that criminals be forced to pay restitution to their victims whenever possible. But collecting the restitution money from the criminals has not been easy.

Louisiana agents collected such a paltry amount of restitution — 23 percent of the amount courts have ordered convicted criminals to repay their victims as a condition for staying out of prison — that state officials recently contracted a private company to do the work.

While it would be preferable for the task of collecting restitution payments be kept in the criminal justice system, if government bureaucracy can’t do the job, then trying the private sector is worth a try.

Jimmy LeBlanc, secretary of the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said the state had been only modestly better at getting offenders convicted on criminal charges to pay court fees, collecting 43 percent assessed by judges.

In 2011 and 2012, the Corrections Department’s Division of Probation and Parole charted $121 million in supervision fees and restitution, of which only $44 million was collected over the two-year period.

Before Fieldware LLC, of Chicago, took over collections in July, 511 probation and parole officers had spent about 27 percent of their time collecting court-ordered debts, LeBlanc said.

The main reason for contracting the work was to get probation and parole agents out of the business of collecting money and focusing more of their time on supervising convicts, LeBlanc said.

Restitution is where the court orders the offender to directly repay the victim for his losses.

State law lists 147 laws — including bank fraud, theft from an aged person, and injuring a police animal — that authorizes judges to order the offender to pay.

The courts also can order the payment of other fees, such as repayment of the costs that went into investigating the case and prosecuting it.

District Attorney Ricky Babin, of Donaldsonville, says prosecutors and judges, even state laws, are reluctant to imprison for not paying. Usually, when an offender’s parole is revoked, not paying is one of several, usually more egregious, violations.

Though state law, in some cases, arguably supports that position, he said, in a large part, prosecutors recognize the hurdles offenders face to make regular payments.

An offender who acknowledges having done someone wrong and who is trying to make amends is a positive step in rehabilitation.

The focus in the system needs to be kept on the crime victim. An expectation of restitution is fair and needs to be a part of the rehabilitation of the criminal.

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