According to the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC), “policymakers, criminal justice officials, and victim advocates are becoming increasingly attuned to the problem of uncollected victim restitution.” While data for all states does not exist, reports that are available show discouraging levels of collected restitution in states and localities. In Texas, for instance, a 2008 examination found that more than 90 percent of offenders discharged from parole between 2003 and 2008 still owed their victims restitution.

In response to this growing problem, the NCVC released a report, Making Restitution Real, which includes five case studies examining local efforts to improve the collection and payment of victim restitution. Three of the five studies reflect statewide efforts in California, Michigan, and Vermont, while the remaining two focus on local programs in Arizona and Florida. While most programs focused on increased collections efforts, Vermont, for example, introduced a centralized system where victims are paid up-front, leaving the burden of collecting restitution from offenders to the state.

Altogether, these five studies represent important and wide-ranging efforts by states and localities to address the challenges inherent in collecting restitution. Though the numbers are staggering—the most recent statistics show uncollected criminal debt at the federal level to be over $50 billion—the report does not marginalize the fact that “behind these numbers are real crime victims in need.” And as courts have recognized, restitution is also important for offenders, as it “forces the defendant to confront, in concrete terms, the harm his or her actions have caused.”

“Allowing court-ordered fines and penalties to be ignored diminishes public respect for rule of law”, the report correctly notes, and establishing performance measures and benchmarks in order to facilitate the collection of victim restitution is an important challenge facing the states today. These case studies do a good job introducing some of the ways that states are beginning to address the problem.