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Grant would aid collection of restitution from offenders

Jackson County is being considered for a federal grant that could help victims collect restitution from convicted criminals.

Officials from Jackson County Community Corrections were given permission to apply for an Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Wednesday morning at the Jackson County Board of Commissioners meeting.

"Any time you can help victims collect the money owed to them by criminals, I say 'Why not?' " Commissioner Jack Walker said.

The grant calls for creating a collections specialist position within community corrections who would focus on monitoring criminals on parole or probation who owe money to their victims.

Jackson County lags behind other Oregon counties in collecting restitution. The state as a whole averages a 68 percent collection rate, but in Jackson County the rate hovers around 55 percent, said Jim Adams, Jackson County court administrator.

"Restitution is always difficult to attain because the amounts are sometimes high," Adams said. "Some of the people who owe restitution are jailed and usually do not have a lot of money."

The idea for the collections specialist was born in a series of meetings throughout 2008 involving officials from Circuit Court, community corrections and the Jackson County District Attorney's Office.

The county seeks to model the new program after Clackamas County's Restitution Court, which has been very successful, Adams said.

"We spent time with Clackamas County, and they told us how it works during an informative meeting," Adams said. "We think this or a version of this would work very well down here."

The program calls for getting recently convicted criminals enrolled in the collections process soon after they are released or are placed on probation, Adams said.

"We have found that the quicker they are in the system, the better chance we have of collecting," Adams said.

The grant application is for $164,423 over four years. The grant would begin July 1 and run through June 30, 2013. The grant money would be expended by the end of the third year, leaving the county to fund the final year from revenue obtained by the position.

"This is the kind of positions we like to see added to the county," Walker said. "This one will pay for itself."

The only thing left is to play the waiting game and hope the federal government sends the funds the county's way. It is not known when the grant would be awarded.

"No one wants to see any victims in our community not financially restored," Adams said. "You can't take pain and suffering away, but we certainly can help make victims financially whole."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.