Repaying Debts, a new guide from The Council of State Governments Justice Center, explains how policymakers can increase financial accountability among people leaving prisons and jails, improve rates of child support collection and victim restitution, and make ex-convicts' transition to the community safe and successful. Inmates being released typically must make payments to a host of agencies, including probation departments, courts, attorney generals' offices, and child support enforcement offices. Coordinated collections efforts among these agencies could increase rates of repayment to victims, families, and criminal justice agencies, but there rarely is a single agency tracking all of an individual's court-ordered debts and facilitating payment.
In addition to child support, an average of $178 million per state in court costs, fines, fees and restitution has gone uncollected. Failure to pay–even by those trying in good faith to repay debts–may result in individuals' reincarceration, during which time those owed money are not being paid and taxpayers are footing the bill for their corrections costs. “States must make some important policy changes that facilitate payment of child support, prioritize victim restitution, coordinate collections among many different agencies, and support people leaving prison and jail in ways that advance long-term payment of these debts,” said Michigan State Sen. Alan Cropsey, a member of the project's advisory group. The report recommends strategies to improve how people released from prisons and jails meet their court-ordered financial obligations. It provides examples from states that have successfully implemented some aspect of these strategies, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin.