Viewpoints

5 steps to improve victim restitution

By Brett Sivits

Victim restitution has become a hot-button issue in many crime-affected communities recently. Judges are ordering it with increasing frequency and the media attention around the growing number of unpaid victims makes the practice an often-discussed political issue locally. As a result, the government offices struggling to collect these dues are finding themselves front and center of these firestorms where deserved justice is failing.

Local and county governments are often left wondering how to keep up with this new demand. How do government agencies go about updating victim restitution programs in order to meet their community's’ needs while complying with judicial orders? They can start by implementing these five practices:
 

1. Make payment easier

Increasingly, consumers have shown that paying electronically – by phone or over the web – is preferable to paying by cash or paper check. Yet many government agencies and offices don’t adequately meet that need; some even lack the technology to accept credit card payments. More commonly, they don’t have an available web portal to enable payment over the internet. Further, many agencies don’t integrate that technology to provide total balances to those making payments. New technology improve your office interface and make the process more mobile-friendly and efficient.
 

2. Increase contacts

Few government offices use sophisticated telephony products to reach out to their contacts. Typically, one or two people on staff are tasked with calling between 40 and 50 numbers a day. Opportunity exists to touch many more. Using technology such automated text messaging or interactive voice response (IVR) to keep contacts up-to-date and manage incoming payments allows government offices to collect much more than manual processes often yield.
 

3. Work the right contacts at the right time

As your contacts age, it becomes less and less likely they’ll yield a return. The way you work accounts matters as much as the information they contain. Government offices and their agencies tend to treat accounts of any age the same. That’s why you need to make multiple calls on a new account – with fresh information – rather than trying to contact every account a uniform number of times, using the same channels.
 

4. Enhance data accuracy

Government offices and agencies typically receive a huge amount of contact information that’s impossible to work through with any expediency. As a result, they often have trouble reaching both the debtor for payment and the victim for disbursement because their phone numbers, addresses, and other means of contact have become outdated. By the time they get to an accurate contact, it might already have dried up. Purchasing data strategically, from a variety of vendors, and regularly scrubbing it for inaccuracies can make a big difference in its usefulness.
 

5. Invest in training

Many cities, counties, and states don’t train their account service representatives to handle the human elements inherent in receivables. Experience is seldom considered a factor and technical knowledge of a system is often given higher priority than good practices for communication. Victim restitution programs would be well-served to consider practices honed in commercial ARM agencies, which train account reps to handle tough conversations, and serve those communities with which they’re tasked to fund.

It’s critical to remember that restitution is more than just an administrative function: your program delivers justice to victims of crime. These people are more than just contacts in your system – they’re your neighbors, friends, and family. Victim restitution is a direct way to help those who are hurt and recover losses that benefit the entire community.

 

Brett Sivits is  a client executive with accounts receivables management (ARM) company Ontario Systems. Brett has more than 15-years in the ARM industry as an operations director, manager, and consultant.

 

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What's Viewpoints?

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Derek Prall

Derek Prall is a professional journalist who has held numerous positions with a variety of print and online publications including The Public Manager magazine and the New Jersey Herald. He is a 2008...

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Jason Axelrod is an award-winning journalist who has reported for The Seattle Times, The Arizona Republic, the Phoenix Business Journal and Mother Nature Network, among other outlets. Jason...
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