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President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang
President Pro Tempore
Arkansas Senate
State Capitol
500 Woodlane St. Ste 320
Little Rock, AR 72201-1090

In Session Phone:
501-682-2902

Out of Session Phone:
501-682-6107

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Lawmakers Tackle Problems of Restitution for Crime Victims

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LITTLE ROCK - Making criminal offenders pay restitution to their victims is politically popular.
However, Arkansas and other states have run into obstacles when they have tried to put in place effective systems for collecting damages. One problem is that offenders often have little or no money when they're released from prison and their prospects of getting a good job are severely diminished because of their criminal record.
Their debt load includes not only the restitution they have been ordered to pay to their victims. The majority of offenders owe court costs and fines that were imposed as part of their sentence, and under current state law court costs must be paid first.
According to a study conducted for the prison system, almost half of all offenders are behind in child support payments when they are released from prison.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is working with prison officials, law enforcement agencies and local elected officials to improve the system for collecting restitution in Arkansas. At a recent meeting, some proposals were discussed in preparation for the upcoming legislative session that will begin in January.
No formal recommendations have been written. There have been discussions about possibly establishing a central unit to be responsible for all collections for restitution. It could have authority to garnish wages, recoup tax refunds, suspend professional licenses, issue non-payment notices or place liens on property.
Another idea is to not allow an offender to be released from prison or from supervision by a parole officer until he has paid all court-ordered restitution, fines and costs.
A great step would be to collect data on computers so that parole and probation officers, sheriffs and others have digital access to information that is now very cumbersome to retrieve.
Now, there is no statewide database that makes readily available to officers how much an offender owes in restitution. In some parts of the state, the amounts owed in restitution are still being recorded in ledger books, which are not readily accessible by officers of the court.
Last year a study of five counties in central Arkansas revealed that only 31.5 percent of restitution had been paid. More than $30 million was owed to victims by 7,751 offenders and only $9.5 million had been paid.
Of the $21 million that had not been paid, almost $8 million was owed by offenders who were no longer under supervision, meaning they were not behind bars or reporting to a parole officer. It is harder to collect from offenders who are not under supervision.
Figures from other judicial districts were just as discouraging, if not more so. In a nine-county area, out of $18 million in assessed restitution $15.9 million was still outstanding. In another area of 12 counties, $4.6 million had been assessed and $1.6 million in restitution was still owed by offenders.
There is a lack of jail space in many Arkansas counties, meaning there usually is no place to hold offenders for non-payment or contempt of court orders to pay restitution.
There is no statewide audit of restitution payments, so state officials don't know how much is being assessed or paid. However, the officials who are working on the problem are concerned that most victims are not receiving the restitution owed to them.

 


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