For 10 years, North Carolina’s court system has improperly diverted millions of dollars meant to compensate crime victims and deposited the money in state and local treasuries, the Charlotte Observer reports. In 1998, the General Assembly put crime victims first in line to receive any money paid by probationers, parolees and prisoners, money assessed by judges after the offenders were convicted. Officials at the Administrative Office of the Courts interpreted the law to put crime victims third in line, behind fees for probation and community service. An incorrect computer setting compounded that error by putting many crime victims sixth in line, behind fines and city and county fees.
Court officials say the courts’ antiquated computer systems, which date to the 1980s and earlier, make it virtually impossible to say how much money went to government accounts rather than victims. The News & Observer of Raleigh examined 244,489 cases where restitution was ordered; in 80,148 cases, restitution was not paid in full, even though court officials collected $8.5 million in fees and fines that by law had a lower priority than crime victims. John Smith, a former judge who became the courts administrative director in February, did not know that his department had given crime victims lower priority than the law required until he was informed by The News & Observer. “Restitution should be first. That’s the intent of the legislature,” Smith said in an interview. “We can fix the problem in one fell swoop, in about 30 minutes after you leave. Restitution will be given first priority.”