Crime does not pay, but criminals should
Even when criminals end up in jail, they often don't pay the full price of their crimes because the state's court systems don't do a very good job of collecting the restitution to victims that often is ordered by sentencing judges.
A state-level task force, funded by the state Commission on Crime and Delinquency, reported Tuesday that courts have failed to collect more than $780 million in restitution to crime victims. Over the most recent three-year period, state judges ordered $434 million in restitution but victims have received only about $50 million. Coupled with unpaid fines and court costs, the total number owed, as of last August, was $2.3 billion. When the Associated Press conducted a similar inquiry in 2007, it found the total to be $1.6 billion.
Some percentage of those costs always will be uncollected because someone serving a long jail term has neither the means nor the inclination to pay. But the task force made 47 recommendations to ensure that more is collected. It called, for example, for standardizing policies in all of the state's common pleas courts, dedicating employees to collection efforts, suspending all state-issued licenses for failure to pay, garnisheeing wages, hiring collection agencies and seizing cash posted as bail.
Some methods would be more useful than others. Seizing bail money, for example, probably would result in more people being in jail and driving up the government's costs.
Yet there is vast room for improvement. The courts and the Legislature should work closely together to improve all collections, which would help victims recover from crimes and help fund the justice system.