Restitution is money the judge orders the offender to pay back to the victim/survivor at the time of sentencing, or a hearing afterwards. This money is for out of pocket expenses that can include medical bills, stolen cash or property, and/or insurance deductibles. Restitution does not cover pain and suffering.
The district attorney who prosecuted the case is responsible for requesting restitution during the court process. The victim/witness unit in the DA's office will provide information and any forms necessary prior to the trial or sentencing date. In order to receive restitution, a crime victim must return the paperwork before sentencing by the judge occurs.
How Restitution Works
Restitution is a condition of the offender’s sentence. Inmates typically begin to satisfy that condition while in prison. A number of county jails, as well as the state prison system, take a percentage* of the money that is placed in an inmate’s account, including money received from family/friends, and from wages earned while in prison. It’s important to note that employment within prison typically pays less than 25 cents per hour, making restitution payments during incarceration very small.
*The percentage taken – and the process - varies at the county level; however, all state prisons take 25%.
The money that is collected is sent to the county that prosecuted the individual. The county verifies and disperses the funds as their procedures dictate. This can include dividing payments received among many victims/survivors, or satisfying restitution of older cases first.
Offenders on parole are expected to set up a payment plan with the committing county. Amounts paid are based on the offender’s employment status and are determined by the Clerk of Courts. Failure to make payments will not be an automatic violation and/or return to prison.
The AOPC has released a Restitution Benchbook to be used as guidance for judges when ordering restitution.
For Additional Assistance
Crime victims should notify OVA, at 800-563-6399, if
- the offender has been in state prison for at least 4 months and they are not receiving restitution payments
- the offender has been released on parole and payments are not being made or have stopped
OVA will work with Accounts & Records at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) where the offender is housed OR will work with the offender’s supervising parole agent.
Please have your case number (example: CP-00-CR-0000000-0000) and/or the inmate number ready when you call.
Each county operates differently; crime victims should also contact the prosecuting county’s Clerk of Courts office with questions about receiving restitution in their specific county and for information regarding how disbursement schedules work.
Note that the committing county should be notified each time the crime victim’s address changes. Delays in payment will occur if this information is not kept up to date with the Clerk of Courts/Collections Office and the district attorney’s office.
Case specific information can be found via the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System website. A guide to accessing information is available here.
Restitution in PA Task Force
The Restitution in Pennsylvania Task Force was convened by OVA in 2011, in collaboration with the Center for Schools and Communities, and brought together stakeholders across all stages of victim restitution work. The task force conducted a thorough review of restitution processes at the state and local level in order to identify gaps and develop solutions to maximize the justice system’s effectiveness.
The final report includes 47 recommendations, which are grounded in research and interrelated to ensure that a comprehensive approach is used to move the suggestions forward at both the county and state level.
As a part of the task force recommendations, the PA Parole Board formed a Restitution Subcommittee to encourage and enhance the collection and enforcement of restitution among those on supervision. A tip sheet was created - and adapted for county probation – to assist agents and officers in restoring crime victims to the greatest financial extent possible.
Check out Pennsylvania's 2021 Juvenile Justice Task Force Report (pdf) as well.
Read more on OVA’s restorative justice services here.