The concept of restitution can be defined as restoring or returning to a victim any losses they may have suffered.
Restitution differs from that of compensation, in that in a personal injury case, compensatory damages awarded to the victim are typically paid by the at-fault party’s liable insurance. When restorative damages are awarded, they are intended to be paid by the wrongdoer personally. Restorative damages are specifically intended to be treated separately and in addition to any compensatory damages the victim might be owed. Texas law requires judges to order defendants to personally pay any restitution amount awarded to the victim.
Losses considered when awarding restorative damages are generally described as any physical, psychological or emotional injury experienced by the victim. Tangible damages such as medical expenses and lost income are also taken into account.
Although restitution is most commonly associated with criminal cases, it can also be made part of judgment in civil cases where a loss has been caused as a result of another person’s negligence. Victims of child pornography, for example, are entitled to recover mandatory restitution of no less than $150,000 according to the United States Sexual Exploitation and Other Abuse of Children Act.
However, in most criminal cases, judges are reluctant to order restitution when subjectively quantifying the harm to the victim is less-than-straightforward. Consequently, restorative damages are far more common in cases concerning property crime victims as opposed to violent crime victims.
The primary purposes of restitution are to restore any financial losses suffered by the victim, to restore any sense of injustice on the part of the victim, and to aid in the rehabilitation of the offender by forcing them to recognize both the losses they have caused and their responsibility to make things right.
Although punishing the wrongdoer is not necessarily a goal of restorative justice, it is none the less an unintended benefit of restitution.
Of course, unlike compensatory damages which might still be recovered when the wrongdoer cannot be brought to justice (such as in the case of a hit and run accident, where the victim may make a claim against their own Uninsured Motorist Coverage), restorative damages can only be sought when an offender is apprehended and convicted.
An additional complication in the effectiveness of restorative justice is that even when restitution is order, it does not necessarily mean that the offender will be able or willing to pay. The Legislative Budget Board estimates that only 50 percent of restorative damages awarded are actually collected. It is the responsibility of the Community Supervision and Corrections Departments and the Pardons and Parole Department of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to supervise restitution payments.
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