A Debt Hard To Collect

Only 7 percent of restitution orders get paid.


Crime victims have been making gains recently in winning restitution from offenders, but compensation is still hard to come by.

A Government Accountability Office estimate of five major white-collar cases in 2005 found that the victims had collected only 7 percent—$40 million—of court-ordered payments. One problem, the gao found, was that the crimes were committed so long before conviction that criminals had lost or hidden most of the money in the meantime. All told, federal criminal debt stood at $46 billion in 2006.

Legislation pending in Congress aims to end some of these delays. The bill, which has passed the Senate, would make it easier for prosecutors to freeze defendants' funds at indictment, safeguarding them for restitution in the event of a conviction. The bill would also allow judges to order that restitution be paid immediately.