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Offender-Based Funding


The notion that offenders should pay for the repercussions of their crime is very old. In the 1800s, many states adopted laws that required offenders to pay the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children the costs of investigating and prosecuting child abuse cases when the society brought the action. Some of these laws are still on the books.1


In 1984, the Federal Government endorsed the concept that convicted offenders should pay for the consequences of their crimes by passing the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) and establishing the Crime Victims Fund (the Fund). This legislation provides that all fines, penalties, forfeited bail bonds, and special assessments imposed on convicted federal offenders shall be deposited into the Fund and used principally to provide the states with funding for crime victim compensation and assistance programs.2

Today, nearly every state has some form of general offender assessment, penalty, or surcharge that all convicted offenders must pay. This money may go to the state's victim services, victim compensation, or be divided between the two.

Amount of Surcharges

The amount of offender surcharges varies. Some states impose a low fee on all offenders, including most traffic offenders. Virginia imposes a $3 fee on all traffic and misdemeanor offenders and certain felony drug offenders. These fees are deposited into Virginia's victim-witness fund and used to implement victims' rights.3 Other states impose a higher fee but limit its application to convicted felons and misdemeanants. Massachusetts is typical of this approach, imposing a $60 penalty for a felony and a $35 penalty for certain misdemeanors.4 Texas imposes a $45 fee for felony convictions, a $35 fee for class A and class B misdemeanors and more serious municipal ordinance convictions, and a $15 fee for class C misdemeanors and less serious municipal ordinance convictions, excluding parking and pedestrian violations. The Texas fees are deposited into the Texas Crime Victims' Compensation Fund and other funds that may be appropriated by the Texas legislature for crime victim assistance programs.5

Some states impose far higher penalties. Washington applies a surcharge of $500 for felonies and $250 for misdemeanors.6 Alabama leaves the exact penalty amount to the discretion of the court, limited by Alabama statute to a range of $50 to $10,000 for felonies and $25 to $1,000 for misdemeanors.7

Washington State estimates that its surcharge brings in approximately $3 million a year.8 Virginia's $3 fee brings in a comparable $3.8 million annually.9 In 1999, Texas court costs raised nearly $69 million for the Texas Crime Victims' Compensation Fund, and more than $16 million was appropriated for crime victim services.10

Surcharges for Specific Crimes

In addition to the general assessments and surcharges applied to offenders, several states raise money for particular crime victim programs by applying specific assessments to offenders of particular types of crime:

  • Child pornography. Illinois imposes a fine on offenders convicted of child pornography charges. When child pornography fines are greater than $10,000, 100 percent of the amount above $10,000 goes to the Child Sexual Abuse Fund, which is used for grants to private entities treating and counseling victims of child sexual abuse.11 With the explosion of child pornography on the Internet and the renewed determination of the criminal justice system to pursue these offenders, fining perpetrators may be a potential source of funding for many programs to help victims.

  • Other offenses against children. Indiana imposes a $100 fine on convicted offenders of various violent and sexual offenses against children. Funds raised from these fines are used for child abuse prevention programs.12 California also imposes several specific fines, up to $10,000, for such offenses.13

  • Domestic violence. Many states impose special fees on convicted batterers that are used to support battered women's shelters.14 California gives courts the option of ordering the defendant to pay up to $5,000 to a battered women's shelter in lieu of ordering a fine.15 Florida and Idaho impose fines on those who violate protective orders. A part of these fines is used to fund domestic violence programs.16

  • Sex offenses. In Illinois, a $100 fine is imposed on anyone convicted of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. The collected fines are deposited into the Sexual Assault Services Fund.17 Several other states use fines collected from sex offenders to fund other programs not directly related to the victim, such as programs for sex-offender registration,18 sex-offender treatment,19 and AIDS education.20

  • Pimping or soliciting a prostitute. In Minnesota, fines are imposed on those who solicit prostitutes or make a profit from prostitution. The funds raised are used partly to fund child protection teams and partly to fund programs for those who have escaped or want to escape prostitution.21

  • Crimes against the elderly or disabled. South Carolina allows courts to impose civil fines up to $30,000 on offenders convicted of abuse, neglect, or exploitation of adults in long-term care facilities. After the attorney general's costs of litigation, remaining funds are deposited into the Adult Protective Services Emergency Fund.22 Iowa imposes a civil penalty up to $5,000 for consumer fraud against the elderly. Funds collected through fines are used to fund investigation and prosecution of such offenses.23

Other Forms of Offender Penalties

In addition to fines and costs assessed against convicted offenders as part of the sentence, other forms of offender penalties are used to fund crime victim services:

  • Probation, parole, and supervisory status. Several states impose costs on offenders placed on probation or other forms of supervised release. Many states impose fees on domestic violence offenders placed on probation, and the states use the fees to fund domestic violence programs. In California, a person on probation for a hate crime may be ordered to make compensation to a community-based program serving victims of hate crime.24 Arizona imposes a general supervision fee on offenders who are placed on parole, probation, or community supervision, and funds raised from these fees are deposited into the state's victim compensation and assistance fund.25

  • Inmate earnings. Colorado, South Carolina, and Utah withhold a percentage of an inmate's earnings through prison or community release work programs.26 This money may go to fund victim assistance or may be deposited into the state's crime victim compensation fund.

  • Surplus restitution. A few states apply “surplus restitution” to crime victim services. This is restitution that has been paid to the collecting agency but was either declined by the victim or the crime victim could not be located. The restitution surplus is deposited into a state fund for crime victim services.27
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State Legislative Approaches to Funding for Victims' Services,
Legal Series Bulletin #9
December 2003
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