More than half of probationers were behind on their restitution payments and the money that was collected from them didn’t always go to crime victims, with some funds languishing for years, according to a review of more than 340 cases at 13 county probation departments released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
“Restitution is a key part of the legal process that allows crime victims to recoup losses caused by the crime,” DiNapoli said. “County probation departments need to step up their efforts to make sure that victims are getting the funds they deserve.”
Restitution is court-ordered compensation requiring a defendant on probation to pay their victim for losses and/or damages sustained as a result of the probationer’s criminal offense. Restitution may include reimbursement for medical bills, counseling expenses, loss of earnings and the replacement of stolen or damaged property.
The 13 departments reviewed had a total of 3,851 restitution cases with probation supervision during the audit period of Jan. 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019. Auditors reviewed 343 cases with ordered restitution totaling $2.8 million in Chenango, Erie, Franklin, Jefferson, Orange, Putnam, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Seneca, Suffolk, Ulster, Wayne and Wyoming counties.
The average collection rate was 55% but ranged between 10% (Seneca County) and 97% (Jefferson County).
During the audit period, only $345,557 was received of the $629,177 that should have been collected from 313 cases with monthly or lump-sum payments that were ordered to be paid, including $171,028 in prior period arrears.
DiNapoli’s auditors also found all 13 departments failed to pay out some restitution and held funds for years because they did not make reasonable efforts to locate victims or could not identify the source of funds in their restitution account. In total, the departments had approximately $1.6 million on deposit. Suffolk County held the majority of this, with more than $1 million undisbursed — some of which was held for up to 27 years.
By law, if reasonable efforts to locate victims had been performed, some of these funds should have been used to pay other victims with unpaid restitution orders. Additionally, three departments did not have required written policies or procedures to provide guidance for the distribution of undisbursed restitution.
Eleven departments did not appropriately follow up on a significant number of uncashed checks and unissued victim payments. Records showed departments had uncashed checks and unprocessed payments totaling $327,898 that were between one and 12 years old. Department officials were often unaware of the amount and age of uncashed checks and unissued payments because they were either not performing complete bank reconciliations or not adequately reviewing them. Only two departments did not have any uncashed checks or unissued victim payments older than one year.
Of the 160 cases in arrears, five departments had policies that required court notification. Only one followed their policy for notifying the court for the one case requiring notification, while four did not always notify the court of delinquent cases.
For eight departments whose policies did not establish court-notification requirements for nonpayment of restitution, the court was not notified for 54 of the 73 cases tested, including two cases that were $55,695 in arrears at the time probation supervision expired. Two departments did not notify the court for any cases in arrears.
By not notifying the court for nonpayment of restitution, departments were not giving the court the opportunity to decide how to proceed while the probationer was still under probation supervision, and victims may not have received the compensation to which they were entitled.
DiNapoli’s key recommendations include that probation departments:
- Establish adequate written restitution policies and procedures for enforcing, disbursing and monitoring restitution obligations; and
- Make reasonable efforts to locate victims, document actions and results, issue payments to the victims who can be located and transfer unclaimed money to the undisbursed restitution account when appropriate.
- Make payments from the undisbursed restitution account to the crime victims whose restitution orders have remained unsatisfied for the longest period in a timely manner.
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