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Miracle of the Cells: An Experimental Study of Interventions to Increase Payment of Court-Ordered Financial Obligations

NCJ Number
Criminology & Public Policy Volume: 7 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2008 Pages: 9-36
David Weisburd; Tomer Einat; Matt Kowalski
Date Published
February 2008
28 pages
This article reports on the outcomes of New Jersey's Project MUSTER (MUST Earn Restitution), which aimed to increase payments of court-ordered fines and restitution among probationers who were seriously delinquent in their payments.
The evaluation found that probationers sentenced to Project MUSTER were significantly more likely to pay court-ordered financial obligations than probationers under regular supervision; however, probationers sentenced to a second treatment group with only one component of Project MUSTER, i.e., the threat of a probation violation and associated incarceration, had outcomes similar to those receiving all features of Project MUSTER. Thirty-four percent of the 63 probationers receiving the full battery of MUSTER features paid all of their court-ordered financial obligations, and 61 percent paid approximately half. Of the probationers receiving only the threat of incarceration for failure to pay (n=66), 39 percent met all of their financial obligations, and 56 percent paid approximately half of their court-ordered financial penalties. For those in the regular probation group (n=69), 13 percent made all of their court-ordered payments, and 35 percent met approximately half of their financial obligations. This suggests that the main cause of probationers' fine and restitution payments was the threat of incarceration for failure to do so ("miracle of the cells"). The experimental group that received all of the components of Project MUSTER experienced intensive supervision, threats of incarceration for failure to pay court-ordered fines and restitution, and community service. Following the criteria for eligibility for MUSTER, study participants were generally more stable and employable than offenders who would usually be found in a probation sample; however, most worked in unskilled or semiskilled jobs, and more than half made less than $250 a week at their last job. All study participants were monitored for financial payments for 6 months after the project began. 7 tables and 71 references


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