IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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Irish Examiner: '7,000 jailed over fines despite new laws'

3rd February 2011

Writing in the Irish Examiner, Jennifer Hough reports that 6,681 people were jailed last year for non-payment of court fines, despite the Fines Act 2010 - legislation which provides alternatives to imprisonment - being signed into law eight months ago. The figure suggests that as many as half of the total number of people who enter prison under sentence are there for defaulting:

The article reports on IPRT's concerns at "soaring numbers" continuing to be jailed for failure to pay fines:

IPRT executive director Liam Herrick said the figures indicate the principle of imprisonment as a last resort in the case of fine defaulters, included in the legislation, has not yet become reality. He claimed the failure to follow up on the enactment of the legislation, at administrative level, was costing significant amounts on a continuing basis.

"As well as avoidable costs to prisons, courts and gardaĆ­, more importantly individuals are being committed to our overcrowded and unsafe prisons in cases where judges have already determined that prisons sentences are not appropriate," he said.

"Although most fine defaulters are released after only a short time in prison, this redundant exercise is extremely costly and wasteful in terms of courts, gardaĆ­ and prison resources.

"Moreover, the futility of this practice is proven by the fact that 85% of those sentenced to imprisonment for fine default return to prison within four years, putting further future burden on a prison system already in crisis," he added.

IPRT has called on all parties to commit to passing the Criminal Justice Amendment Bill 2011. The proposed legislation will require judges to consider community service for offences which would normally receive a custodial sentence of six months or less.

It has also called for the full commencement of the Fines Act 2010 at the earliest opportunity bring to an end the ineffective, costly and damaging practice of imprisoning people for non-payment of fines.