ALMOST 7,000 PEOPLE have been sent to prison so far this year for not paying fines, new figures have shown.
A total of 6,969 people had been committed to prison by the end of November for the offence, according to figures released by the Minister for Justice.
The figures are a minor increase on last year.
However the numbers confirm that there has been a dramatic surge in the last three years in the number of people being jailed for not paying fines.
There has been a 176 per cent increase in the number of people jailed for the offence since 2008, when 2,520 people were sent to jail for not paying fines.
Liam Herrick, the head of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) which campaigns for reform of Irish penal policy, said that imprisoning people for non-payment was “redundant” and “wasteful”.
“At a time of scant resources, the redundant exercise of imprisoning people for non-payment of fines is extremely costly and wasteful in terms of Courts, Gardaí and prison resources,” said the IPRT Executive Director.
More importantly individuals are being committed to our overcrowded prisons in cases where judges have already determined that prison sentences are not appropriate.
Responding to the issue in the Dáil, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter defended the figures, saying that people in jail for fines make up a small fraction of the prison population at any one time.
On 30 November, 20 prisoners – 0.5 per cent of the total prison population – were in jail for not paying fines, Minister Shatter told the Dáil.
He also said that he intended to start a number of provisions contained in the Fines Act 2010 in the new year, such as allowing people to pay fines by instalments and substituting community service orders for fines.
“I expect that these measures, taken together, will all but eliminate the need to commit persons to prison for non-payment of fines,” Minister Shatter said.
However the failure to fully implement the Fines Act, some 18 months after it became law, was criticised by Liam Herrick:
“The failure to follow up at administrative level to allow for the payment of fines by installment means that thousands continue to be jailed for non-payment of fines 18 months after the legislation was signed into law,” said Herrick.
The figures were revealed in a parliamentary question asked Michael Healy-Rae TD in the Dáil.
The figures also showed that the number of people jailed for not paying back debt has increased dramatically.
29 people were jailed for non-payment of civil debt up until the end of November this year – compared to just 5 people for the whole of last year.
The figures came from the Annual Reports of the Irish Prison Service.