Editorial: Re-thinking victim surcharge

The victim surcharge concept, where perpetrators of crimes are required to pay into funds supporting victims, is a good one, but it has some obvious problems.

Related: Confusion surrounds controversial victim surcharge fees

One is, where is a convict going to come up with the money when the bill comes due on the day of his release? With few immediate prospects for jobs, some will do their best to avoid paying while others may return to tried and true ways to raise money: a thief will look for someplace to rob, a drug trafficker will look to make some deals.

If it encourages a return to crime, the victim surcharge is kind of self-defeating.

That the victim surcharges are an additional punishment for criminals, over and above their jail time, is as obvious as the need for victim support services. But the question that needs to be asked if the fines are being imposed just to funnel money into programs the provincial government doesn’t want to fund? Or, is the greater intention to remind perpetrators there is a human cost to their crimes?

If it is the former, that the government is determined to raise money this way, then there is little to be done to break the cycle. But if the intention is an object lesson in the human cost of crime, then perhaps there are ways to make it more effective.

It might start with allowing convicts to reduce the amount they are expected to pay through exemplary behaviour and investment in their own rehabilitation while incarcerated. Perhaps after release, payment of the victim surcharge should be series of monthly payments — not a lump sum — both so it would not pose a dangerous financial cost, but also serve as an ongoing reminder.

Work needs to be done on the victim surcharge, not to make life easier for perpetrators of crime, but to make the program as effective as possible.

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