Legal community concerned about impacts of PFD cuts on restitution payments
Restitution is considered by many to be a staple of the criminal justice system. It allows victims to receive money from their offenders, which in turn helps pay for things like counseling and medical expenses.
The executive director of Victims for Justice said it prevents people from becoming “re-victimized” after a crime.
“If somebody was assaulted and out of work for quite a bit, they can use those restitution payments to pay for not only the work and the money they lost, but also the medical bills and other kinds of collateral damage from that crime,” Robyn Langlie explained.
Only roughly a quarter of restitution is ever paid out in Alaska. However, Langlie said 59 percent of it is garnished from offenders’ Permanent Fund Dividend checks. Moreover, about half of payments are above $1,000. With this year’s PFD check amount of $1,022, Langlie said offenders will likely be less able to pay.
“Say, for example, your final amount is $1,500,” Langlie said. “You’re only going to get that $1,000. And you’re going to have to wait — potentially — until the next year if the offender can’t pay.”
In an email to KTVA, Gov. Bill Walker said, “I recognize my veto of dividend funds will impact restitution payments to some Alaskans. However, if we don’t make changes now, there will be no dividends in a few short years. We cannot continue with the status quo.”
The government can garnish PFD checks for things other than restitution. Checks are garnished for child support payments more than anything else. Taylor Winston, the executive director of the Alaska Office of Victims’ Rights, said that provides less money for restitution.
“When that pot shrinks down, there’s going to be fewer moneys available for the victim,” Winston said.
She said the restitution system had flaws even before PFD checks were cut. Yet it remains a crucial part of the justice system as a way to help victims while holding criminals accountable.
“It [is] a constant reminder to the defendant of what they’ve done and that they have an obligation to this victim that extends beyond just the day in court,” Winston said.
Restitution is not the only way Alaskans can get financial help after a crime. If they are a victim of violent crime, they can secure funds through the Violent Crimes Compensation Board. Information about the VCCB can be found here.
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