Should Crime Pay?: A Critical Assessment of the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996

08 Feb 2010 08:53pm Matthew Dickman 

The role of victim restitution in the criminal justice system has changed dramatically over the past quarter century. During that time, Congress enacted a series of legislation designed to strengthen and expand restitution at the federal level, morphing victim restitution from a judicial afterthought to a legislative mandate. The most notable piece of legislation was the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (“MVRA”) of 1996, which removed judicial discretion from the restitution process by mandating that restitution be ordered in the full amount of victims’ losses without regard to defendants’ financial circumstances. As a result of the MVRA, the number and size of restitution judgments has increased exponentially.

Despite the widespread impact of the MVRA on victims, offenders, and the criminal justice system, the practical effects of the Act have been scarcely evaluated. This Comment addresses that deficiency in the discussion of the MVRA through an analysis of its practical efficacy. To that end, the Comment looks at the MVRA’s impact on victim compensation, victim satisfaction, and offender rehabilitation. Through statistical, social, and legal analysis of these topics, the Comment reveals that the MVRA likely leaves both victims and offenders worse off than they were under the statutory scheme that preceded the Act. The paper concludes by making a series of policy recommendations to ameliorate the current state of federal restitution, offering both short-term fixes and long-term solutions.

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