Convicts walking away from court-ordered restitutions

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by ANDY PIEROTTI / KVUE News and Photojournalist DEREK RASOR

kvue.com

Posted on November 21, 2013 at 11:24 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 22 at 11:30 AM

Do the crime, pay the fine, right? Not in Texas. A KVUE Defenders investigation uncovered millions of dollars in court-ordered restitution going unpaid and the state unable to collect the money for its intended victims.

Rose Kappmeyer is one of those victims. In 2006, her husband, Andy, died after a drunk driver hit him head-on in Schertz, a northern San Antonio suburb. The impact severed his legs. He lived in pain for 30 days before he died.

"I was with him every day from 7:30 in the morning until nine at night every day," Rose said, in tears.

As part of a plea bargain, a judge sentenced the driver, 16-year-old Justin Felan, to several months in a state juvenile prison camp and ordered him and his family to pay Rose $87,000 in restitution.

More than seven years later, Felan has never paid a dime to Rose. She isn’t the only one not getting paid.

According to state parole records, the KVUE Defenders reviewed, 168 parolees in four Central Texas counties owed $2.6 million in restitution before they discharged from supervision over the past four years.

By the time the parolees were discharged, they only paid $50,000 to their victims. That’s a 1.9 percent collection rate.

Unpaid Restitution By the Numbers from 2008 to October 2013:

  • Bastrop County: $109,648.93
  • Hays County: $11,381.46
  • Travis County: $1,314,293.63
  • Williamson County: $1,178.432.35

According to the state parole division, it’s against the law to release how much restitution each parolee did not pay after they were discharged from supervision.

Rose said she feels that the justice system has failed her and other victims.

"The reason it is important to me, and all the other people, is so that this person can realize what he has done," she said.

Stuart Jenkins, the director for the Texas Parole Division, said he understands victims’ frustrations. He said the state actively collects money from ex-cons until their supervision is over.

“From our perspective, in the parole division, that's a priority for us," Jenkins said.

According to Jenkins, there are more than 87,000 parolees under supervision in Texas. Only 56 percent of them are employed.

Despite orders by the court, parolees face no penalties or jail time if they don't pay restitution. Once they're discharged from supervision, the state has no authority to make them pay.

Jenkins said the only way victims can get restitution is take the ex-cons back to court and sue for it.

“At the point that that person comes back under supervision, we can continue to collect that," Jenkins said.

Some groups, like the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, want restitution reform to get victims more money owed to them by their perpetrators.

"Restitution is critical to making the victim whole," said Ana Yáñez-Correa, the director of TCJC.

Yáñez-Correa also said she thinks collection could improve if employers gave ex-offenders more job opportunities when they get out of prison.

"What's the first question they ask you? They ask you, 'Have you ever gotten in trouble with the law?' I mean, people on delayed adjudication, that's not even a conviction, they treat that like a conviction," Yáñez-Correa said.

TCJC said they also think the state should consider settling restitution for lower amounts when ex-offenders have a difficult time finding employment.

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