Since the beginning of the year, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with victim advocates in Hawaii on measures to improve the enforcement of victim restitution laws. Last year, Hawaii completely revamped its restitution statutes to make restitution a priority of the justice system, and of those who serve and assist victims of crime. In doing so, I’ve had the chance to work with them on creating processes that make it as simple as possible for victims to understand and implement their right to restitution. I also had the opportunity to develop a “philosophy statement” on victim restitution (see below). I’d love to hear from you about your thoughts!
For too long in America, the right of crime victims and survivors to restitution has been viewed and treated as a “suggestion,” rather than an actual law. When convicted offenders realize that little or nothing will be done to make them pay their restitution obligations, there is no incentive for them to comply with either the state’s law or the actual restitution order from the court.
Victim restitution is perhaps the only core victims’ right that addresses the wide range of what are often devastating effects of crime – the physical, emotional, psychological, social and financial impact of crime. The consistent, collaborative and comprehensive enforcement of restitution laws has benefits for victims, for persons convicted of crimes, and for our society as a whole:
- Every time convicted offenders make a restitution payment, they are reminded of the simple fact that somebody was hurt by the crime they committed.
- When we seek strategies for effective offender case management, restitution provides an important foundation that holds offenders at least financially accountable for the harm they have caused their victims.
- When a convicted offender’s “ability to pay” is considered, the ability of the innocent victim to pay must also be raised and considered.
- Every time victims receive a restitution payment, it greatly increases their sense of justice; their overall satisfaction with the criminal justice system and those who represent it; and their feelings that the justice system really cares about them, and about the losses they have endured as the result of a criminal action.
- When society as a whole recognizes that convicted offenders are being held financially responsible for their criminal actions, and that victims are being compensated for the harm they endure, it enhances their faith in a justice system that addresses not only criminal justice, but victim justice and community justice as well.