Crime Victims' Perceptions of Restitution: The Importance of Payment and Understanding

Article excerpt

The Office for Victims of Crime recommends that victims should be informed, consulted, respected, and made whole, rights that relate to informational, procedural, interpersonal, and distributive justice. We surveyed 238 victims in two Pennsylvania counties to test whether crime victims' satisfaction with the criminal justice system was related to their perceptions of the fairness of the process and of their outcomes in their case, particularly with regard to restitution. Results indicated that payment of restitution, perception of fair process, and good interpersonal treatment were positively related to victims' willingness to report crimes in the future but that satisfaction with information about the process was not. Victims' understanding of the restitution process was a significant predictor of willingness to report in a multivariate analysis.

Keywords: restitution; procedural justice; interpersonal justice; willingness to report crimes

Although victims typically initiate the criminal justice process by reporting to the police, they are generally excluded from subsequent decision making because, under the law, crimes are committed against the state, not individual victims. Victims' omission from the process also reflects the criminal justice system's concern with protecting the constitutional rights of the accused. Moreover, the efficient operation of the criminal justice system relies on the interplay of a community of working professionals, and the victim is merely a temporary and tangential player in this ongoing enterprise.

Reforms in the past 30 years have been aimed at recognizing victims' rights and increasing the role of victims in the criminal justice system. There is also the practical concern that victims' cooperation is often needed to prosecute an offender. And future victims, who are disproportionately past victims, must report their victimizations if the criminal justice system is to be successful in identifying, prosecuting, and monitoring offenders. Despite a number of reforms aimed at increasing victims' satisfaction with the criminal justice system, many victims still feel they are unfairly left out of the criminal justice process. This study examined whether victims' willingness to report future victimizations was related to their perceptions of the criminal justice system, focusing particularly on issues of information, process, treatment, and outcome related to restitution since restitution is one of the primary reforms instituted to protect victims' rights.

VICTIMS' DECISION TO REPORT

When victims decide whether to report a crime, their decision rests largely on what they think reporting will accomplish. For example, among reporters of property crimes, the most common reasons given for reporting are to recover property or collect insurance (32%), to prevent this crime or to prevent further crimes (15%), or to catch or punish the offender (12%) (Matson & Klaus, 2003, table 101). Only a small percentage (7%) report because they feel a duty to report the victimization. In fact, if victims report only to realize specific goals, they are likely to be disappointed because most reported crimes are not solved, and, even if there is a conviction, victims are unlikely to have their property restored (Ruback & Bergstrom, 2006).

However, individuals do not base their satisfaction solely on case outcomes. Research on procedural justice suggests that people also care about how they were treated. Thus, it is reasonable to expect that, independent of the outcome in their case, crime victims' willingness to report in the future would be influenced by the extent to which they believed that the process was fair, how much respect they felt they received, and their level of understanding of the process.

VICTIMS' PERCEPTION OF JUSTICE

Victims' rights groups have long advocated that, at the very least, victims must be treated fairly (e.g., President's Task Force on Victims of Crime, 1982). …