Giving away money for a living
Editor’s note: This is the third in an occasional series of articles that look at the various jobs within CDCR and the dedicated people who perform them. CDCR employees have some of the toughest jobs in state service. If you have a job you would like profiled in this series, send your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Dana Simas, Public Information Officer
Imagine having $12 million and your job is to make sure it is given away, but you don’t know who to give it to. That’s the job of Victim Restitution Analyst Michael Rogowski.
He’s part of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services’ Unknown Victims Program. He researches contact information on victims who are owed restitution but whose locations are unknown.
Since 2009, Michael’s sleuthing has located 3,307 victims and given out more than $2.1 million in collected restitution.
The money is garnished from inmates who were ordered by a judge to pay restitution to those they harmed. It’s meant to reimburse victims for any funeral expenses, counseling, medical bills, and other damages.
On the victims’ behalf, CDCR collects 50 percent of whatever is deposited into the inmate’s account by either friends/family members or by any jobs they may have while incarcerated.
Michael starts his day looking at the spreadsheet that contains hundreds of inmate CDCR numbers, case numbers. Each of them is accompanied with “unknown victim” or has a name but no address or phone number.
Michael searches the Strategic Offender Management System (SOMS) for any court documents that might be in the inmate’s file. These files may have a police or probation report that contains the victim’s information.
If SOMS does not contain the victim’s information, he calls the district attorney’s (DA) office in the county where the crime was committed to see if they may have any contact information on file for the victim. If the inmate’s file in SOMS doesn’t contain a police report, and the DA’s office doesn’t have contact information, Michael will request the police report from the arresting agency. Sometimes he can’t get the report.
It’s a long process with many potential dead ends, but Michael keeps on looking.
“I couldn’t do my job without the assistance of all 58 counties or the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board,” Michael said. “They play a key role in my day-to-day work in tracking down victims.”
Once Michael finally finds the victim’s contact information he then attempts to notify him/her of the restitution being collected on his/her behalf. He does that by calling the victim directly or mailing a letter to confirm that he/she is indeed the victim of the crime. Once confirmed, CDCR will release the collected funds.
Some victims have more than $10,000 that has been collected on their behalf, no doubt a welcomed surprise for many.
While giving away money may seem like an amazing job it comes with some hardships as well.
“The hardest part of my job is hearing and reading the sad stories,” Michael said. “Over the years I have heard victims say that they’re suffering from nightmares, anxiety, paranoia, and depression. You can feel there was a sense of peace that was stolen.”
In one instance Michael made contact with a victim who had a crime committed against her more than 10 years ago. When Michael told her that she had money waiting for her she broke down crying as she is currently battling cancer and the money was sorely needed to help cover her medical bills.
Michael is clearly passionate about what he does within CDCR, which is fortunate as it will take years to distribute all of the money waiting to be collected.