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Victim restitution is an amount of money or property a court orders an offender to give to the victim or victims of a crime, often as part of the offender’s sentence. The payment is meant to compensate the victim for losses that occurred because of the crime. If the victim had to receive medical care or counseling as a result of the crime, the victim restitution order may include the offender being ordered to pay for these expenses. Other expenses for which victim restitution might be ordered include compensation for lost wages if the victim was unable to work as a result of the crime, lost or damaged property as a result of the crime, and funeral expenses in the case of homicide or involuntary manslaughter.
The idea of victim restitution is often part of a legal concept known as restorative justice. Restorative justice seeks to have the offender repair the damage caused by the crime and seeks to have the victim of the crime compensated for that damage. In restorative justice, the offender may be ordered to take responsibility for the action by issuing an apology or making restitution. The application of victim restitution can be found in legal practice since ancient times, and examples can be found in the oldest books of the Bible, in Roman law, and in Native American practices.
Three benefits are commonly sought in awarding victim restitution. The first is to compensate, or at least acknowledge, the victim’s losses. The second and third are aimed at rehabilitation for and punishment of the offender. The goal is that the offender sees the losses caused by the crime and that this leads to rehabilitation.
Many courts consider the offender’s ability to pay when ordering victim restitution. Some jurisdictions will recognize non-monetary forms of restitution, while others will not. In most instances, victims can only be compensated to the amount of their losses from the crime.
While many courts order victim restitution, the collection of that restitution is often difficult. In some instances, the court may make the payment of restitution part of probation conditions, and it is more likely to be paid in these instances. In other instances, victims may wait years to be paid the ordered restitution or may not receive the payment at all. Some jurisdiction may also collect ordered restitution from an offender’s tax refunds, garnishment of wages, or other similar means.