Study: $780M in restitution goes unpaid in Pa.
BY MARK SCOLFORO, Associated Press
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 experiences of victims of crime in Pennsylvania, including their access to restitution compensation, vary significantly across the commonwealth," said the 84-page report. "Differences in county-level policy and practice result in victims' disparate access to remedies, including restitution. These discrepancies may lead to secondary victimization."
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.
"Today, wage attachment is a fairly routine practice, as it is often required for support obligations and can be voluntarily ordered in criminal proceedings," the report said. The garnishment recommendations, which recommended that the General Assembly consider the idea, passed without opposition.
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.
"Many payment plans are active for a significant number of years, and often these plans become uncollectible over time," the report said.