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Barker is correct: Make criminals pay

Aloha state Rep. Jeff Barker has it right.

One of the most egregious flaws in Oregon's justice system is its inability to collect the money that criminals are supposed to pay to their victims in the form of restitution.

In sentencing a convicted criminal, Oregon judges frequently order that such restitution be made - but more often than not, crime victims are left hanging without ever collecting a dime. This shortcoming violates just about anyone's sense of justice, and it also is a direct infringement of the Oregon Constitution. That's why we support efforts by Barker and Oregon Attorney General John Kroger, who favor legislation to improve the restitution system and actually require criminals to make financial amends for the harm they cause to others.

It's no secret that most criminals in Oregon don't pay their restitution. But what's even more disturbing is the large scope of the problem: state officials say that only 5 to 10 percent of what is owed by criminals ever gets paid to victims. In Multnomah County alone, $77 million in unpaid restitution is owed. And while, this is a serious problem, there are some procedural ways to change things. For example, the collection of restitution fees jumps to 25 percent when criminals are on probation, being monitored and their eventual release from probation is tied to requirements, such as good behavior and completing the provisions of their sentencing - including paying restitution to the victims of their offense.

Barker's House Bill 3066 proposes further efforts.

The bill requires the state Department of Justice to fund five restitution clerks who would be assigned to different counties throughout the state. The clerks would work with district attorneys prior to trials to determine which cases are the best candidates for restitution. The legislation also would fund five additional agents statewide who would more aggressively pursue actual payment of restitution in these particular cases.

The money to pay for this program would be borrowed from the state's Criminal Injuries Compensation Account - not allocated from the state general fund. Then, as restitution money is collected through these increased efforts, a portion of those funds would be used to pay back the account.

If adopted, House Bill 3066 is an important step to make the idea of restitution by criminals something more than a judicial mockery in Oregon.

We think Oregon voters would agree. In fact, voters feel so strongly about restitution that they have made it a constitutional right for victims to receive prompt payment. The Legislature must move rapidly to adopt House Bill 3066 to prove that it cares both about the constitution and about justice for crime victims.