Texas property crime victims often pay twice – once for the crime and once for the time as taxpayers. Only half of all court-ordered victim restitution in Texas is collected, although the national average is even lower.

Utilizing alternatives to incarceration when the offender does not pose a danger to the public can increase restitution. Consider that in 2008, Texas probationers paid an average of $109 in victim restitution, totaling $46.75 million. This is more than 34 times the restitution paid by each prison inmate. Probationers also performed 9.7 million community service hours, which would be worth $70.3 million based on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Additionally, felony probationers must pay $600 per year in fees plus court costs. Texas has some of the highest fees in the nation, which fund 40 percent of probation department budgets. This burdens indigent probationers – many of whom also owe child support – and creates a fiscal incentive to revoke a greater share of non-paying probationers to prison.In 2008, Texas prison inmates paid a mere $501,000 in total victim restitution, fines, fees, and court costs, an average of only $3.21 per inmate. Parolees did better, paying $1.2 million solely in victim restitution, an average of $15.18 per parolee. Most Texas parolees are employed – indeed the employment rate of Texas parolees exceeds Detroit’s overall employment rate. However, parolees are typically in the limited tier of lowest-wage jobs open to ex-inmates, who average less than an 8th grade achievement level. They often struggle to cover basic housing and nutritional needs. Also, the average inmate who leaves prison owing child support is more than $16,000 in arrears. These children are secondary victims of crime and overreliance on incarceration.

Incarceration is necessary for offenders who pose an ongoing danger to public safety, but two-thirds of offenders entering Texas prisons are non-violent and many county jails are overflowing with non-violent inmates. Incarceration protects the public in many cases, but also severs employment, family, and any religious ties, reducing the likelihood that the victim will receive restitution. The criminal justice system must be brought into fiscal balance with victims treated as consumers.

– Marc Levin