How OVSRS delivers restitution to Ensure Victims’ Rights
Story by Joe Orlando
Office of Public and Employee Communications
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) acknowledges and honors victims and survivors of crime each day, and especially during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW), April 19-25.
This year’s NCVRW theme — Seek Justice | Ensure Victims’ Rights | Inspire Hope — commemorates the individuals and groups whose advocacy has propelled the victims’ rights movement forward for the past half century, inspiring in victims and their loved ones a feeling of hope for progress, justice and healing.
This theme is championed by CDCR’s Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services (OVSRS), a dedicated team of hard-working professionals who provide comprehensive post-conviction resources to victims and survivors who register with OVSRS.
This story will explain how CDCR employees advocate for victims and survivors who have an offender who resides in our institutions, with services like restitution ― collection and disbursement. It’s one of many ways the department works to Ensure Victims’ Rights.
Crime victims and survivors are entitled by law to restitution
CDCR professionals, working out of OVSRS and inside state institutions, are dedicated to ensuring that incarcerated people understand their responsibility to victims and survivors — specifically restitution.
“Restitution is a basic right that holds offenders financially accountable for their criminal actions, and provides victims with monetary compensation to cover their losses resulting from crime,” said Tiffany Johnston, manager of CDCR’s Restitution Services Unit inside OVSRS.
All state correctional facilities offer transition classes that prepare the incarcerated for life outside the walls. These weekly classes provide information on finding a job, opening a bank account, paying bills and restitution.
OVSRS works closely with crime victims and their families, along with the courts and the inmates, to make sure everyone is aware of how restitution works and to help coordinate the process.
The court must order offenders who are sentenced to state prison to pay a fine of between $300 and $10,000.
Normally, a restitution fine is ordered on every case unless there is an extraordinary reason stated on the record to not impose it. Direct orders are imposed when a victim has out-of-pocket expenses because of the crime. This reimbursement may not be ordered in every case.
How it looks, inside prison
In February at Folsom Women’s Facility, incarcerated women who were nearing their release date were provided information on their restitution responsibilities as part of a class dealing with how to prepare for their eventual release back to their communities. The discussion was led by Michael Rogowski and Elwina Rivera, both Restitution Services Liaisons with OVSRS.
“Does everybody know what restitution is?” Rivera asked the class. “It is your responsibility and you are obligated to pay it to your victims.”
Each student receives a Restitution Quick Reference Guide.
“Ninety days after release, CDCR sends information to the Franchise Tax Board (FTB),” Rogowski explained. “It’s important for you to work something out with FTB.”
CDCR refers an offender’s direct order restitution debt to the California Franchise Tax Board for collection once they are released from prison. The released offender must arrange with the Franchise Tax Board to satisfy the direct order restitution.
One student said the course was helpful: “I learned some of the dos and don’ts that I need to be aware of,” she said. “I’ve been working with my family over the past few years, and we are all on the same page with what I owe and what I’ll owe when I get out.”
As long as a restitution balance remains, CDCR collects 50 percent of prison wages and/or other money deposited into an inmate trust account.
“If there is payment on restitution, your family needs to know,” Rivera reminds them.
Since 2010, the CDCR’s OVSRS has successfully located 10,095 victims and disbursed more than $11.6 billion to victims. In 2019, OVSRS identified 2,282 more victims and disbursed a total of $1,970,444.52 to victims.
What are some other ways CDCR Ensures Victims’ Rights?
Victims and survivors can request to be notified of the release, death, escape, parole proceeding, contract, or scheduled execution of their offender(s). Requests can be made by completing a “Request for Victim Services” form.
These individuals can also request input into the following special conditions of parole (considered by the CDCR Division of Adult Parole Operations).
Victims and survivors are also welcome to attend and/or make a statement at parole suitability hearings. If they can’t attend the hearing but would still like to participate, they can request to participate with an audio connection, appoint a representative to attend, or submit a written statement or audio recording.
In addition to the Board of Parole Hearings, OVSRS works closely with DAI partners, the Office of the Attorney General: Office of Victims’ Services, The California Victim Compensation Board, The California Secretary of State: Safe at Home Confidential Address Program and The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
For more information on services available to victims and survivors who register with OVSRS, please refer to these links on the CDCR website.