Opportunities to Make Restitution

Opportunities to Make Restitution

Restitution is an extremely flexible sanction that is not being used to its full potential. It can be applied at each stage in the criminal justice process, from the immediate aftermath of the crime up until the final moments of parole supervision fol- lowing a period of imprisonment. Figure 12.1 illustrates how restitution can be an option at every decision-making juncture.

As soon as a suspect is apprehended, an informal restitution arrangement can settle the matter. For example, a storekeeper might order a shoplifter to put the stolen item back on the shelf and never return to the premises, or parents might offer to pay for their son’s spray painting of a neighbor’s fence. In most states, however, serious offenses cannot be resolved informally. It is a felony for an injured party to demand or accept any payment as “hush money” to cover up a major violation of the law, in return for not pressing charges, or as a motive for discontinuing cooperation with the authorities in an investigation or prosecution. A criminal act is an offense against the state in addition to a particular person and cannot be settled privately (Laster, 1970).

After a suspect is arrested, a restitution agree- ment can be worked out as an alternative to prose- cution (diversion). If a defendant is indicted, the district attorney’s office can make restitution a con- dition for dismissing formal criminal charges. Once prosecution is initiated, restitution can be part of a plea bargain struck by the defense lawyer and the district attorney, wherein the accused concedes

guilt in return for lesser penalties. Restitution is particularly appropriate as a condition of probation or of a suspended sentence. If incarcerated, an inmate can try to begin to repay the injured party from the meager wages he earns from labor in prison, but he will be more capable of putting money aside if he gets a real job while he is on work release or when he resides at a halfway house. After serving time, restitution can be included as a condition of parole. Restitution con- tracts can be administered and supervised by various parties concerned about the crime problem: com- munity groups, private and nonprofit charitable and religious organizations; juvenile courts; adult crimi- nal courts; probation departments; corrections departments; and parole boards.

Yet as promising as restitution seems to be, it is not the answer for most victims. Only a small per- centage will ever collect anything. The problem is directly parallel to the quest for emotional satisfac- tion from retribution. Just as most criminals escape punishment, most also evade restitution. The phe- nomenon of case attrition has been labeled funnel- ing, or shrinkage, and has been likened to a “leaky net.” At the outset, many cases seem appropriate for restitution. But at the end of the criminal justice process, only a relative handful of injured parties receive even partial restitution. All the other cases (and offenders) have slipped through holes in the net. Figure 12.2 explains how and why so many escape their financial obligations.

First of all, a large number of offenders will never have to make amends because their victims do not report the incidents to the police (refer back to Table 6.1). Next, the majority of offenders get away with their crimes because the police cannot figure out who the perpetrators are (clearance rates are especially low for the most numerous property crimes: burglaries, car thefts, and other forms of stealing; refer back to Table 6.3). Hence, right away most of the people who have suffered harm already have been eliminated from any chance of receiving reimbursement. For example, only about one-half of all robberies are reported, and only one- quarter are solved, so only one out of eight robbery cases enters the system.


Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

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