Criminal Restitution Often Falls through Cracks

Article excerpt

Each year, Pennsylvania judges order criminals to pay millions in restitution.

The problem is most of the money isn't collected or distributed, according to a recent report from a statewide task force that looked for ways to improve the victim restitution system.

The Tribune-Review's analysis of the report found that among 11 Western Pennsylvania counties, Indiana had the best success collecting and distributing money to victims. Of the more than $1.64 million in restitution it ordered, the county disbursed $418,704 -- a collection rate of 25.52 percent. Lawrence County did the worst, and Allegheny County was toward the bottom of the list.

"Many victims suffer emotional, financial, spiritual and physical damage," said Pennsylvania's Victim Advocate Carol Lavery, who chaired the 39-member task force that came up with 47 recommendations for maximizing the reimbursement of financial losses to crime victims.

"On top of all they've been through, they become frustrated by a system in which the person who committed the crime against them is ordered to pay restitution but the victim isn't getting it and can't figure out why," Lavery said.

During the study period -- 2010 through November 2012 -- Pennsylvania ordered defendants to pay more than $434 million in restitution, according to the report. However, victims ended up with only about $50 million -- a collection rate of 11.52 percent statewide.

Randy Degenkolb, Indiana County's clerk of courts, believes the county's higher-than-average restitution collection rate is no accident.

"I think we're very much tuned to victim advocacy in this courthouse," said Degenkolb, who is responsible for issuing restitution payments.

At 6.82 percent, Lawrence County did the poorest job regionally of getting criminals to pay, taking in just $297,893 of the more than $4.37 million in restitution judges ordered.

Lawrence County President Judge Dominick Motto believes his county's low rate is, in part, the result of several large restitution orders the past several years that will take time to collect. …