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New bill aims to smooth out the restitution process for payers

Addicted Utah:{ }New bill aims to smooth out the restitution process for payers (Photo: KUTV)
Addicted Utah: New bill aims to smooth out the restitution process for payers (Photo: KUTV)
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The way people who owe restitution pay back victims needs to be fixed.

That's according to a state lawmaker who is working on a bill to overhaul the system.

"There was a time when the word brought up a lot of feelings of anger."

Casey Erickson is talking about restitution.

"There's a lot of stigma that is attached to that word," he said. "That can seem really big and scary for a lot of people."

Erickson is in recovery from substance use. He admits bad choices earlier in his life have consequences, but the restitution process in Utah shouldn't make those decisions even harder to make right.

"The entire process from start to finish was frustrating--and the lack of transparency between me and between government agencies that were involved in the process," he said.

Erickson started paying off his restitution--a $13,000 total--after getting out of treatment and started a job.

"I don't even know where they came up with the numbers," Erickson said.

At times, he had no idea where his payments were even going.

"I didn't know what was going to principal, I didn't know what was going to interest; so as far as I know, it was going into a black hole," he said.

When his restitution blocked he and his wife from refinancing their home, he decided to dig into the numbers.

It took weeks of phone calls between six different parties to figure out what he owed and who he owed it to. He was finally able to pay off his debt with a settlement.

"There was no process, there was no communication set in place to go through this," he said. "So it was really just my initiative that ended up getting this result taken care of."

Representative Ray Ward has heard stories like Erickson's for far too long.

He's filing a new bill to make the entire reporting and paying process much clearer and easier for all parties.

2News' Jim Spiewak asked Ward if the system--the way it is set up now--is broken.

"It's functioning badly," Ward said. "I mean it works--it grinds on--but I would say it's not fair to the people who owe money right now."

Ward's bill will essentially require the Office of State Debt Collection to do what most other financial institutions already do: be fully transparent over the entire payment process.

"They need to have a place that the person who owes money can log in, that they can see exactly how much they owe, that they can see what the interest rate is, if they owe three or four different places--which they easily could because there may be multiple crime victims," explained Ward.

Ward says people getting out from crippling debt is better for everyone. And for those still struggling through the process--

"I'm sorry it's taken so long to fix, but we're going to fix it."

That's comforting for Erickson to hear. He has been sober for over five years now, and says people like him can become contributing members of society.

"We need to do everything we can to help people," he said. "People are worth fighting for, and we can all change. I'm a living example of that."

Rep. Ward has been meeting with the Office of State Debt Collection for about a year on this issue. His bill has been filed for the upcoming legislative session in January.

Go here for the original reporting on the state's restitution system.

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