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Report Calls Restitution System 'Broken,' Urges Reforms

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Monday, August 1, 2022   

A new report found imposing restitution on youth offenders often leads to higher recidivism rates for children, pressure on families and further involvement in the justice system.

According to the study from the Juvenile Law Center, youths are often too young to hold a job, still in school and may come from families also struggling to get by.

Nadia Mozaffar, senior attorney at the Juvenile Law Center, said the juvenile system is supposed to be about rehabilitation and accountability for behavior, but she contended restitution puts the focus instead on a person's family financial situation.

"Restitution is really a broken system that isn't working for young people," Mozaffar asserted "That actually isn't resulting in victims being appropriately compensated, and is just creating a lot of harm to communities."

New Hampshire is the only state which does not allow interest to be collected on restitution. And in 2020, a bill was signed into law preventing parents from being on the hook for costs of services for a child's involvement in the justice system. The report pointed out, however, there is room to grow. Young people may be prosecuted for contempt if they do not pay restitution obligations by their 18th birthday.

Mozaffar added because young people often are not financially stable enough to pay restitution, it is important to decouple making victims whole and holding young offenders accountable. New Hampshire does have a Victims Compensation Fund, but she noted there are specific circumstances for accessing the funds.

"There are creative ways that we can ensure that money is there to compensate victims fully for their losses," Mozaffar stressed. "That doesn't necessarily require them to be waiting, for years and years and years, for a 14-year-old to make enough money to pay them back."

Mozaffar added pilot programs have shown restorative justice and other alternatives to financial restitution can often result in better outcomes, both for young people and victims. The report also pointed out alternatives must be fair, culturally responsive, and developmentally appropriate, as the human brain is often still developing into a person's mid-20s.


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