A new program by a Washington county prosecutor’s office would allow for certain crime victims to be paid restitution directly from a fund established by the agency – and said to be supplied by taxpayers – instead of waiting for the alleged criminals’ cases to play out in court, according to officials and a report.
The King County Prosecutor’s Office recently established a program that would include the reimbursement of a certain amount of restitution toward victims of certain kinds of crimes earlier on in the criminal justice process, rather than waiting for the offender to pay up, which, according to County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, could take months if not years, KOMO News reported.
"The reality of the situation right now is, victims are not being taken care of. This will help us take care of their immediate needs to a cap of, say, $500,” Satterberg told the news outlet. He later added: “The truth is victims don’t get their money in the current criminal justice system; this would make the victims whole right away.”
The money would come from a taxpayer-supplied fund that, starting in 2021, will be given a budget ranging from $90,000 to $150,000, according to the report. Called a "restoration fund," it "seeks to provide restitution in situations where it would not otherwise be feasible or available," the office wrote in a previously released explainer of the program, which is slated to begin by 2022.
"It is estimated that 40% of American families cannot come up with $400 in an emergency, and the loss of a cell phone, or a broken window may be too much for a lot of people to cover themselves without other sacrifices," Satterberg wrote in the memo. "The restoration (restitution) fund aims to repair harm that is currently going unaddressed in cases where the youth who committed the offense does not have the means to do so (e.g. replacing a stolen cellphone). Not repairing the harm can have collateral consequences with ripple effects for the harmed party and broader community."
Satterberg argued that taxpayers will be saving money because the public will no longer be required to foot the bills linked to future court cases surrounding criminals’ abilities to pay the restitution amounts.
He said the program could turn into “a revolving fund where the defendant pays, and the money will go to future victims of crimes.”
The restitution plan is part of a larger diversion program that will allow community-based groups to decide the fate of people accused of certain crimes. The program will be offered to “first-time, non-violent cases” and could mean the accused individuals avoid jail-time altogether by instead being sentenced to drug treatment, mental health counseling, or education, according to a tweet shared by the office last week.
“Literally, it’s a once-in-the-lifetime opportunity," Satterberg told KOMO News about the larger program. "If you screw up, you're back in court."