Thousands of convicted teens and young adults are paying restitution to compensate their victims for the costs of their crimes, the New York Times reports. However, these young offenders may be paying into a broken system that sometimes denies compensation to victims. A report published Thursday by the Juvenile Law Center criticized the system, stating that it puts young offenders into a never-ending cycle of paying off debt. States do not track how many young people owe restitution. Advocates believe that the current system, which was created in the 1960s to offer young, white offenders an alternative to jail, now puts more burden on low-income communities of color.
Eleven states mandate restitution to pay for damages caused by crime; the rest leave the decision up to the judge. Five states and three territories limit the amount that a juvenile offender can be ordered to pay. Those who cannot pay may be punished in other ways, including incarceration, probation, and inability to expunge records. The report found that the system does not usually work as intended and said that up to 77 percent of restitution ordered goes uncollected. Currently, 14 jurisdictions make offenders pay restitution to institutions such as government agencies, insurance companies or victim compensation funds, meaning that it does not go directly to victims. In 2019, Maine passed legislation preventing people under 16 from having to pay restitution. They also allow juvenile offenders’ restitution to be reduced or canceled, depending on circumstances. They also require money to go directly to the victim, rather than third-party institutions.