New law addresses restitution paid to crime victims

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas signed a bill into law Wednesday that makes significant changes in the state’s victim restitution program. Lawmakers acted on the bill after a report by the State Auditor’s office revealed that only 12% of all restitution awarded by the courts actually gets paid to victims.

Under the new law, the state will pay victims directly from a new Restitution Fund. The fund will be capitalized by a 15% surcharge on criminal fines and most traffic tickets. The state will then be responsible for the collection of restitution from the criminals. The law gives officials new tools – including wage garnishment – to obtain the money that is owed.

Judy Rex, director of the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services, says the new law is a very important step for victims of crime:

(Rex) “It’s a huge change because right now the way it works, the court orders restitution and the victim has to wait until the defendant actually pays it. And it often comes in little five and ten dollar increments and takes years. And most victims never receive their restitution.”

(Host) The new surcharges are expected to raise roughly $1.5 million a year. State officials anticipate the new Restitution Fund will have sufficient funds to begin paying victims next summer.

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