Local News

Crime Does Not Pay For Victims Awaiting Restitution In N.C.

Posted August 29, 2002

— Many times when criminals are sentenced, a judge orders them to pay restitution to the victims.

WRAL wanted to find out how often those debts get paid and found a system short on information that leaves many victims and their families suffering long after the crime is committed.

"A lot of times I cry for my daughter," said Shirley Rudisill.

In October 1994, Rudisill's daughter, Cheryl, was beaten and left unconscious for hours. The injuries caused brain damage, and to this day, Cheryl lives in a rest home.

Cheryl's husband at the time, Adam Fowler, was convicted in the assault. Fowler was sentenced to serve 14 weekends in jail and ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution.

"It doesn't work. I don't really think there is such a thing as restitution in this state," Rudisill said.

When payments came few and far between, Rudisill went after Fowler in court.

Over five years, she finally got the $10,000, but she said that amount does not come close to the hundreds of thousands of dollars owed for her daughter's ongoing medical and rest home bills, plus legal costs.

"He's out living his life and my daughter's in a home. She has absolutely nothing except a small amount of Social Security she gets each month," Rudisell said.

"Crime victims just are not getting paid," said Donna Pygott, of the

North Carolina Victims Assistance Network

.

Pygott said her office fields hundreds of complaints a year on unpaid restitution.

"It's the principle of it. They need to be held accountable for their actions," she said.

A 1994 study by the North Carolina Sentencing And Policy Advisory Commission shows that 46 percent of offenders ordered to pay restitution never paid a dime to victims.

When WRAL tried to get current numbers, the Department of Correction, the Administrative Office of the Courts, and county clerks offices said that they have no way to track that kind of information.

"In the victims' eyes, they see our division as failing because we didn't collect the funds," said Robert Guy, community corrections director.

Guy admits there are shortfalls in tracking restitution.

But he said, "We've done all we can do. We've exhausted every resource to collect these fees."

WRAL found there are problems inherent to the system. For example:

  • Many offenders in prison never even qualify for work release, so they do not pay the money.
  • If they do work, much of what they make goes to pay court costs and fines first.
  • Offenders out on probation may not have jobs, or have such low-paying jobs that restitution takes a back seat to living expenses.
  • In many cases, whether restitution is paid or not, when prison time or probation ends, offenders are free of their obligations.
  • Rudisill got so fed up with the system, she sued Fowler in civil court and won a judgement of nearly $1 million. Rudisill said she doubts that she will ever see another cent from Fowler.

    "They should put a chain between them, and he should have to pull her weight. He should have to care for her," Rudisill said.

    Fowler declined to be interviewed for this story.

    The Crime Victims' Rights Act that went into effect in 1999 allows victims and their families to seek restitution even after an offender's probation ends; however, according to the Wake County Superior Court Clerk's office, no one has taken advantage of that provision yet.

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