IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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Numbers jailed for not paying fines on course to double in 2009

9th November 2009

The number of people jailed for not paying fines reached 1,897 in the first 6 months of 2009.

If numbers continue to be imprisoned at these levels, we are on course to see around 4,000 facing prison for the non-payment of fines in 2009.

Fines are imposed as punishment for minor criminal offences, and most of those imprisoned for the non-payment of fines are in prison for a very short period.

However, even a short period of imprisonment can have devastating and long-term effects on families and communites. Losing contact with family, employment and social or community services and networks, even for a short period, can have long-lasting negative effects.

Moreover, the high rate of committals for non-payment of fines comes at a time of record prison overcrowding.

In 2006, 1,089 people were jailed for not paying fines; this number increased marginally to 1,335 in 2007. However, the figure reached 2,520 in 2008.

On this morning's 'Morning Ireland' on RTÉ, Noeleen Blackwell of the Free Legal Advice Centre spoke of a system that sends a person to prison for owing as little as €100.

Fine Gael TD Jim O’Keeffe is quoted in the Irish Times as describing the figures as “incredible”, saying it was clear thousands of people were being sent to jail “because they are poor”.

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