by Paul Niquette
Copyright ©1996 Resource Books All rights reserved.

restitution n. 

  1. The act of restoring to the rightful owner something that has been taken away, lost, or surrendered. 
  2. The act of making good or compensating for loss, damage, or injury;  indemnification; reparation. 
  3. A return to or restoration of a previous state or position.
Drop a ball onto a fixed surface from some given height.  It rebounds part way back up.  Never quite all the way, of course.  How high is determined by a joint property of the surface and the materials out of which the ball is made.  Physicists call that property the "coefficient of restitution."  Numerically, it ranges between zero, for putty-like stuff, and almost one, for a ball made from the super-substances your kids bring home from the shopping mall.
A coefficient of restitution equal to one is physically impossible.  Such a ball would bounce forever.
Something similar may be said for other forms of restitution.  Call it hysteresis: The pathway backward is never exactly the same as the pathway forward.  You find hysteresis in all realms of nature and human affairs.  It's reality time: restitution does not occur.  Nothing can ever be fully restored to some "previous state."

Consider any case you choose: a loss or an injury -- followed by what would be commonly called "restitution."  Wouldn't you always prefer not to have suffered the loss or the injury than to have the restitution?  If so, restitution is not capable of restoring you to a "previous state."

When a crime is involved, the concept of restitution is outright misleading.  Not being robbed/raped is certainly preferable to having the robber/rapist locked up.  Incarceration, whatever its merits -- in punishment, deterrence, even revenge -- cannot "make good" or fully compensate a victim.

Strictly speaking, convicts repay debts neither to their victims nor to society.
Give them a "clean slate" if you want to, but I'll not call it "restitution."

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