Whereas, restitution is intended to be a compensatory, not punitive, component of a sentence;
Whereas, current federal restitution law often imposes onerous burdens on defendants beyond the actual harm they caused;
Whereas, current federal restitution law often imposes burdens on defendants that are beyond their ability to pay;
Whereas, a Government Accountability Office study found that restitution is ordered in roughly 15% of the tens of thousands of federal criminal cases that result in conviction each year, with an average of $1 billion in restitution being ordered each year for the period studied;1 1 Id.
Whereas, the same study found that a total $110 billion in ordered restitution was outstanding and, of that, the vast majority, $100 billion, is considered uncollectible due to impacted persons’ inability to pay2 2 U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, Federal Criminal Restitution: Most Debt Is Outstanding and Oversight of Collections Could Be Improved (Feb. 2018), https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-18-203.pdf; Whereas, there are insufficient safeguards to ensure that restitution amounts are accurate and supported by evidence in the record;
Whereas, current federal restitution law allows for less culpable defendants to nonetheless bear a significant and disproportionate restitution burden;
Whereas, restitution may become a “life sentence” that burdens a defendant and their family for years, even after a prison and supervised release term ends;Whereas, these onerous requirements harm impacted persons’ ability to earn money obtain financial services including credit, obtain housing, and take care of their families and may therefore ultimately reduce the likelihood that restitution is paid;
Whereas, restitution or other monies owed may harmfully affect a person’s ability to exercise crucial civil rights, including the right to vote;
Whereas, restitution obligations have a harmful effect on impacted persons’ ability to fully reestablish themselves in post-incarceration economic and social activities;
Whereas, restitution requirements are difficult to extinguish, either by payment in full or the passage of time, increasing the likelihood that they will impose a lengthy, onerous, and unfair burden on defendants;
Therefore, BE IT RESOLVED that NACDL supports legislative efforts to reform existing federal restitution law to ensure fairness, proportionality, and accuracy; prevent restitution obligations from being overly burdensome or lengthy; and to make it easier for restitution orders to be satisfied, thereby providing certainty and finality for persons who are affected.
Resolution of the Board of Directors
March 4, 2023
New Orleans, LA