Restitution Payment and Recidivism: An Experimental Analysis

R. Barry Ruback, Lauren K. Knoth, Andrew S. Gladfelter, Brendan Lantz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Research Summary: Restitution is court-ordered payment by an offender to compensate a crime victim for direct tangible losses resulting from the crime. Making regular restitution payments, it has been argued, may serve as a continual reminder to offenders of the harm they caused and their need to restore justice. In this study, we examined the recidivism of offenders who were delinquent in paying restitution and who had participated in a prior experiment aimed at testing whether receiving monthly letters would increase their payment of restitution. Findings from that experiment revealed that offenders who had received letters containing information about the economic sanctions they had paid and what they still owed paid a significantly larger proportion of the restitution owed and made significantly more monthly payments than did offenders in the other three experimental conditions. Results of the present follow-up study revealed that even though recidivists (as measured by a new arrest) and nonrecidivists did not differ significantly in the amount of restitution they owed, nonrecidivists were more likely to have paid something toward the restitution they owed and more likely to have made more monthly payments. Statistical tests indicated that payment mediated the relationship between the experimental manipulation of information and observed recidivism, suggesting that the experimental manipulation of information led to more payments that, in turn, led to less recidivism. Policy Implications: The findings from the prior experiment indicated that offenders who had received information about the economic sanctions they had paid and what they still owed were more likely to make payments. In that study, scholars concluded that giving offenders this information was cost-effective, in that for every dollar spent, more than $6 in restitution was received. The results of this follow-up analysis of recidivism demonstrate that the cost-effectiveness of providing information is greater than previously indicated. At a cost of $64.19 per day for jail in Pennsylvania, the difference of 46.4 days between offenders who received information and those in the other experimental conditions could be as much as $2,978.42 per offender, less the costs of monitoring payments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)789-813
Number of pages25
JournalCriminology and Public Policy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Administration
  • Law


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