Judges In Barron County Introduce First-Of-Its-Kind Restitution Court

Hearings Target People On Probation Who Have Failed To Pay Restitution They Owe

The Barron County Justice Center. Photo: Jimmy Emerson (CC-BY-NC-ND).

Judges in Barron County have begun holding a court for people who have failed to pay restitution as part of their probation agreements.

When someone is placed on probation, they agree to certain conditions set by the court, including paying restitution to a victim. But judges in Barron County were noticing a problem: People on probation weren’t paying up. Judge Maureen Boyle said even after extensions, the money wasn’t coming in.

“It appeared to us judges that there is a re-victimization at that point,” said Boyle. “Sometimes victims are waiting for years to have any restitution paid back to them, and then at the end of all that time we’re coming back to them and saying, ‘Here’s the civil judgment, now go collect it.’”

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Instead of filling out the usual paperwork to extend probation or move a case into civil court, Boyle and her fellow Barron County judges began calling offenders back into court to explain why they weren’t paying their victims.

“We decided we needed to pay closer attention to this and start holding these hearings to just see exactly why this restitution wasn’t being paid,” said Boyle. “We’ve decided to take a more active role in having offenders come back into court and talk to us (about) their ability to pay and about when they can get this restitution paid.”

Boyle calls it “restitution court,” and according to the Director of State Courts Office, it’s the first of its kind in Wisconsin. During the hearings, payment schedules are set and jail time is threatened to those who refuse to pay.

Boyle said after a few months of holding the hearings they’ve already noticed more restitution being paid to victims.

Correction: The subheadline of this article orginally said that restitution court held hearings for people on parole. The court actually holds hearings for people on probation.