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Study: $780M in restitution goes unpaid in state

February 12, 2013 News Extra

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania should be more aggressive in collecting restitution from criminals, including garnishing paychecks and suspending state-issued licenses, according to a task force report issued Tuesday that put the unpaid sum at more than $780 million.

The task force listed 47 ways state policymakers could address the problem, including devoting government workers to collections, more effectively using state-issued licenses as leverage, making procedures more consistent from county to county and attaching wages.

The study was funded by a $90,000 federal grant through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and its recommendations were approved by a majority of the task force. Many of the proposals would require action by the Legislature, Supreme Court or county judges.

The 39-member task force said the state could begin taking money for unpaid restitution directly from lottery winnings, tax refunds or the defendants’ paychecks.

Historically, the panel said wage attachments have been opposed by employers on the grounds it would constitute a logistical headache.

Over a recent three-year period, Pennsylvania courts imposed more than $434 million in restitution, but victims ended up with only about $50 million. The reasons for that, the task force said, are that about one-third of the defendants are jailed, payments by defendants also go to fines and fees, some restitution amounts are so large that they skew the numbers and payment plans can allow very low installments.

Victims also can move and be hard to locate — educating victims about the need for them to stay in touch with the court system would help, the task force said.