In his article for the Irish Examiner, Cormac O’Keeffe reports that 2015 saw the highest number of people ever sent to prison in Ireland. In addition, 2015 also saw more people than ever before imprisoned for failing to pay a court fine.
The massive increase in the number of people sent to prison for failing to pay a court fine has been the main driving force behind the increasing number of people sent to prison in recent years, as the number of people imprisoned for a fine default quadrupled between 2008 and 2015. For example, in 2008, there were 13,557 committals to prison and 10,928 people sent to prison – some people are imprisoned more than once in a year. However, of the 10,928 people sent to prison that year, 2,520 people (around 25%) were sent for defaulting on a court fine. This compares to 2015, where there were 17,223 committals and 14,194 people sent to prison. And of the 14,194 people sent to prison last year, 9,892 (over 60%) were imprisoned for failing to pay a court fine.
Although fine defaulters tend to only spend somewhere between a few hours and a few days in prison, processing such a large number of people in and out prison is labour-intensive and is an inefficient use of staff time and energy which could be put towards other services and programmes for prisoners.
In the article, IPRT’s Deputy Executive Director, Fíona Ní Chinnéide, comments that the “Irish Penal Reform Trust is extremely concerned that a record number of people were sent to prison in 2015, despite legislation introduced in recent years intended to address Ireland’s over-dependence on imprisonment”. Ní Chinnéide also makes the point that to reduce Ireland’s over-reliance on imprisonment, there needs to be a greater use of “robust and effective community sanctions” and a review of “the effectiveness of legislation introduced to address the low and inconsistent use of community service orders and the rocketing numbers imprisoned for fines default”.
For more the article can be read here.