This study analyzed Pennsylvania court decisions in 170,260 restitution-eligible cases from 1990 to 1998, so as to identify the policies underlying the imposition of restitution as a discretionary decision, as well as to assess whether a 1995 statutory change that made restitution mandatory changed those policies.
The data consisted primarily of sentencing information from the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing for the years 1990 to 1994 and 1996 to 1998. These individual and case-level data were supplemented with contextual information from the 1990 U.S. Census, the 1990 Uniform Crime Reports, and reports issued by the Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (2000). In addition to restitution outcome, the analysis included four legally relevant case variables: offense type, offense severity, prior record, mode of conviction, and controls for fines and incarceration. Offender demographics were also considered. Six variables represented the social, political, and criminal justice context of each county. Multilevel analyses of restitution decisions suggested that judges considered restitution to be both a victim-focused sanction, in that restitution was ordered more for offenders who committed more serious crimes and for property offenders, and an offender-focused sanction, in that restitution was ordered more for offenders who pled guilty, offenders with no prior record, White offenders, and female offenders. The statutory change increased the proportion of restitution orders statewide from 1996 to 1998. This apparently met the policy goal of a greater focus on victim needs. 4 tables, 24 notes, and 36 references
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