GAO Finds Justice Still Lagging in Criminal Debt Collection

Three years ago the auditors came calling and left the U.S. Department of Justice with a list of recommendations to help it improve its process of collecting fines and other payments from criminals.

When U.S. General Accounting Office auditors checked on debt collection progress again recently, they found many of their recommendations had either been ignored or not acted upon. Investigators took the Justice Department to task last week for failing to take action, the Washington Post reported.

In its 2001 report, GAO found that criminal debt had been around $6 billion in 1995 and had climbed to $13 billion by 1998. This year’s report found the number has jumped to $25 billion.

Chief among the recommendations made in the 2001 report was that Justice coordinate a plan of action with Treasury, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and the Office of Management and Budget — a plan that had not gotten off the ground by December of last year.

In its report "Actions Still Needed to Address Deficiencies in Justice’s Collection Processes," GAO stated that, "A primary factor contributing to the increase is a mandate that requires restitution to be assessed regardless of the ability of the offender to pay. As we reported in 2001, collections as a percentage of outstanding criminal debt averaged about 7 percent for fiscal years 1995 through 1999."

GAO also stated, "Justice has made progress responding to GAO’s 2001 recommendations related to criminal debt collection, but not to the degree that had been expected."

Download a copy of the complete report at www.gao.gov.

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