A California penal revision panel recommended a new crime victim restitution fund paid by the state on Monday, hoping to bring immediate restitution to crime victims rather than awaiting a court judgement which could take a long time.
According to the California Committee on Revision of the Penal Code, which was set up by Governor Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature in 2020 to look over the penal code, reduce prison populations, and enhance racial justice, the 2022 Annual Report has 10 recommendations for the state in 2023. These include:
- Establish a State-Funded Restitution System for Crime Victims
- Create a Victim Right to Restorative Justice
- Expand Victim Right to Civil Compromise
- Prohibit Stops for Technical Traffic Infractions
- Limit Consent Searches During Traffic Stops
- Ensure Public Defense Counsel Before Arraignment
- Modernize the Competency to Stand Trial System
- Encourage Data Sharing to Address Frequent Utilizers
- Update Pretrial Procedures
- Codify Humphrey’s Elimination of Wealth-Based Detention
However the most expensive item, by far, would be to set up and fund a state restitution system. The recommendation says that a tax-payer funded system would pay crime victims for stolen and damaged property, as well as pay for any lost wages and medical expenses incurred by victims. The current system is largely court-based, with a judge giving damage costs once a criminal is convicted. While there are state funds there for victims in cases of serious injury and death, most collected money comes from those convicted.
New recommendations by state panel
The committee noted that payments to victims rarely come out as even for the victim, with the proposed state fund ensuring that the victim is compensated while also reducing the “impact of criminal fines and fees on convicted persons”, as many criminals often can’t afford to pay what a judge orders.
Committee Chairman Michael Romano said that the state needs to do more to help crime victims, and that state-funded restitution would go a long way.
“What we’re doing right now in terms of restitution is not helping crime victims for the most part,” said Romano on Tuesday.
While the plan has been praised by many racial justice proponents, law enforcement groups and victim organizations have said that such a plan is dangerous and fiscally irresponsible. As hundreds of millions are ordered in restitution a year, it would likely cost California, conservatively, at least $200 million a year for a restitution program. And with the state facing a $25 billion budget deficit next year, such a program would have drastic consequences financially.
“Not only is it a huge drain on the budget, but the whole idea that the state should pay rather than the criminal is just crazy,” explained Michaele Johnson, a crime victim advocate in Long Beach, to the Globe on Tuesday. “I admit, paying the victim as soon as possible does have benefits, but many also want to see justice in action in court. They want to see that person who wronged them go through that whole process.
“Plus, this kind of thing takes the burden off the criminal, you know, the one who did the crime in the first place. This doesn’t even say that the criminal has to pay back the state with that program. Personal accountability is right out the window there, ad the criminal learns nothing. No consequences. It’s a terrible idea. Does the committee even try to have some semblance of being fair at all?”
Several other ideas proposed by the panel were also denounced by law enforcement officials and victim groups. Some, such as banning traffic stops for non-safety violations such as tinted windows, illegal additions, and tinted windows, were chastised as those offenses are still illegal under California and local laws, and prevent the police from doing their jobs. Others, like ensuring a public defender before an arraignment, are already on the books through state and US laws. Some have even been decided on through voter referendums and previous legislative action, such as bail, or as the panel calls it, wealth-based detention.
“The panel is trying to make all of these things race-based or wealth-based, but the reality is that these proposals go against numerous laws on the books that ensure public safety and criminal justice, or are ideas already in place. Like some of the things they want are already Constitutional amendments,” explained James Pulaski, a former law enforcement official in LA County, to the Globe. “I don’t think they realize what the consequences will be if most of these are put into practice, and it’s scary that most are actually being considered.”
Like previous recommendations by the panel, several of the issues brought up are likely to be incorporated into legislation soon.
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