If I don’t make a restitution payment, can the judge put me back in jail?

I am a convicted felon – 3 charges and served 180 days in jail; 3 years probation; restitution for what I stole. I am unemployed and am having a difficult time finding a job in this economy, especially with a record. I have been making small payments to repay my debt. I am not on any specific repayment schedule.

Asked on November 29, 2011 under Criminal Law, Illinois


ZAM, Member, State Bar of Michigan / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

The short answer is "Yes."  If you fail to make your resititution payments a judge has the power to find you in contempt of court, in violation of your probations and can issue a warrant for your arrest.  Violating the terms of your probation is never I good idea, and can cause you long-term problems.

A judge can also order you to appear in court for a "show cause" hearing.  This hearing is your opportunity to explain why you were delinquent in your restitution payments.  Depending on your judge and the details of your circumstances, a judge may decide not to pursue jail time.  In your situation, I would highly recommend taking a proactive stance and informing your probation officer and/or the court of your financial hardship before you start missing payments.  It will reflect well on you, and you will likely find the court more willing to work with you on the repayment schedule.

If you are ordered to appear for a show cause hearing, contact your attorney if possible.  If you can't obtain representation, do not miss your hearing date.  All too often, citizens on probation do not take the orders of the court seriously and land themselves in more trouble by failing to comply with the court's wishes.  USe your show cause hearing as an opportunity to show the judge that you're doing your best to comply with the terms of your probation.

In today's economy, the courts are cognizant of the inherent difficulties in finding gainful employment.  While some judges will not accept any excuse for a missed payment, others are appreciative of the financial realities of your situation and will work with you to ensure you stay on the straight and narrow.

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