IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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Imprisonment for Fines: "defaulters turned away from overcrowded prisons"

10th August 2011

The Irish Times reports both a sharp decline in payment of fines imposed by courts, and that most fine defaulters are being turned away at the prison gates because there is no space due to severe overcrowding.Crime Correspondent Conor Lally writes:

"Fines are expunged on the spot because they are technically regarded as having served a short prison term in lieu of their fine. Because they are turned away before being processed into the prison system, they are not classified as being on temporary release. The mechanism has the effect of artificially reducing the number of prisoners on temporary release."

IPRT welcomed the Fines Act 2010 upon its passing through the Oireachtas in March 2010. However, we remain very concerned that the Fines Act 2010 has not yet been fully implemented more than a year after it was signed into law. Thousands continue to be imprisoned for failure to pay court-ordered fines while the Courts Service ICT system awaits the necessary upgrade to facilitate payment of fines by instalment.

Liam Herrick, Executive Director of IPRT has described the failure to fully implement the Fines Act more than a year after it was signed into law as the big issue:

“While the reality is that these people are not held in prison for long, it represents a pointless drain on scarce resources in terms of Courts, Garda, Prison Service and administration costs. The Minister must ensure the full commencement of the Fines Act 2010 in order to bring to an end the ineffective, costly and damaging practice of imprisoning people for non-payment of fines.”

6,681 people were imprisoned for failure to pay fines in 2010, the year the Fines Act was passed, and numbers continue to rocket in 2011.

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