By Sheridan Watson, CSG Justice Center Staff
Victims frequently sustain financial losses as a result of the crimes committed against them. Repayment of financial losses, or restitution, by the person who was convicted of the crime can be a crucial resource for victims. Even though courts may order people to pay restitution, however, there is no guarantee that the amount ordered will be collected. Many state policymakers are unclear about restitution outcomes because data analysis is lacking in most states, impeding their ability to make policy improvements to help victims recover financially and ensure that people who owe restitution fulfill their obligations.
Hawaii is the notable exception and has the outcomes to prove it, thanks to intensive data analysis conducted by the CSG Justice Center in partnership with the state. Improving victim services was a central part of the state’s Justice Reinvestment approach, which included the enactment of the Justice Reinvestment Act (Act 139 and Act 140) in 2012. To help victims recover financially from crime, the Justice Reinvestment Act revised statutes to increase the rate of restitution collected from people in prison and provide more frequent payments to victims. The legislation also funded 22 victim service positions at the state and local levels as well as a comprehensive computer database to track restitution orders, collections, and payments.
Following both legislative and administrative changes, Hawaii is showing positive results. Between 2013 and 2016, the amount of restitution collected from people in correctional facilities and on parole supervision increased 70 percent. (See Figure 1.)
In October, victim advocates representing various state agencies from California, Delaware, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming gathered to learn from Hawaii’s success. At the meeting, staff from the CSG Justice Center and Hawaii’s Crime Victim Compensation Commission (CVCC) explored with participants how Hawaii has used five elements—policy, data, agency leadership and workforce, and interagency coordination—to create an effective model for improving the management of victim restitution.
“The criminal justice system should both help make victims become more whole after experiencing crime and enable people convicted of crime to demonstrate to themselves, the victim, and the community that they are atoning for crime,” Hawaii Lt. Gov. Doug Chin told participants. “There’s much we can learn from each other, much we can share. By discussing and continuing to improve Hawaii’s model on restitution, we hope more states will generate improvements and highlight their own accomplishments.”
Participating states learned how Hawaii has used data to establish baselines and track performance. In 2016, the CVCC implemented a new web-based Compensation and Restitution Management System to improve the efficiency of processing restitution payments. The new system includes custom case management tools, streamlined payment processing, expanded data collection, and enhanced reporting capabilities that assist data-driven analysis of the effectiveness of restitution collection from people in prison and people on parole in Hawaii.
Along with improvements in restitution collection in correctional facilities, parole supervision showed impressive results without the backing of any restitution policy changes. Between 2013 and 2016, restitution collections among people on parole supervision increased 76 percent, from $70,000 to $120,922. The Hawaii Paroling Authority (HPA), which administers parole supervision, identified several approaches that contributed to the increase, including routine training of parole officers on restitution management, recognition of officers who make restitution a priority, authorizing officers to use intermediate sanctions and incentives in response to compliance with the restitution payment plan, and frequent review of trends in the state’s restitution collection dashboard.
“Payment in full of restitution is an integral part of the rehabilitative process, and this is continually reinforced throughout the period of supervision,” HPA Administrator Tommy Johnson said. “Restitution is not voluntary; the court orders it as part of the sentence and the parole board sets it as a condition of supervision. Parole officers who use every opportunity to discuss restitution help lead people on parole to repay the obligation to their victims, who can better recover financially as a result.”
To foster interagency coordination, Hawaii established the JRI Restitution Workgroup, which collaborates with state agencies and stakeholders to remove obstacles to timely, consistent, and accurate collection of restitution. The workgroup also monitors progress, helps to identify the agencies that need to be included in relevant discussions, and assists in bringing the necessary parties together in a collaborative atmosphere. It assisted in the creation of a Correction Based Victim Services Program within the Department of Public Safety as well as the Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification (SAVIN) system.
“Hawaii has prioritized victim restitution, and its progress in recent years offers a number of lessons that other states can apply to help crime victims recover financially,” said Jennifer Storm, Victim Advocate of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. “The information we learned during this training will help us enact and implement policies that improve restitution outcomes, providing clarity and predictability for victims as well as for the people who owe restitution.”