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Troubles exist with Louisiana's crime-restitution system

Those who are convicted of crimes in Louisiana may have to pay fines and court fees on top of any jail time they must serve. The exact amount depends upon the alleged crime, the applicable law and other factors, but these payments are especially important in cases involving fraud, embezzlement and other white collar crime charges. In some cases, restitution of unlawfully acquired money can take the place of jail time. However, Louisiana has until recently been very slow to collect money for restitution. That may be set to change now that the state has hired a private contractor to collect this money.

According to the Louisiana Corrections Department Division of Probation and Parole, in 2011 and 2012, the agency was entitled to collect $121 million in restitution and court fees from people who were convicted of crimes. Instead, it collected only $44 million, about 23 percent of the total it should have collected.

Under Louisiana's restitution system, those convicted of 147 listed types of crime are supposed to directly repay their victims for the money they took or other damages. In addition, those convicted can be ordered to pay court costs associated with their trials. In theory, they can be ordered to pay 100 percent of the cost of their own criminal conviction. If convicts are unable to pay, they may be ordered to serve more time behind bars.

State officials said their primary motivation in hiring a contractor to take over collection of restitution money was to get state parole and probation officers out of the collections business so they could concentrate on their core jobs. Officials also hope that a private company will be more successful in collecting the money that is owed.

However, critics of the system argue that a majority of convicted criminals in Louisiana are too poor to pay restitution or court fees. Furthermore, their status as convicts limits their ability to secure well-paying, new employment that would allow them to make these payments.

These difficulties with the restitution system helps illustrate the kinds of trouble Louisiana residents can land in when they are convicted of crimes, even when they don't have to serve jail time. Because the penalties are so severe, it's crucial that all those facing allegations of fraud, embezzlement or other theft crimes obtain the best defense they can.

Source: The Advocate, "Officials question restitution system," Mark Ballard, Jan. 3, 2014

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