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Over 2,000 people jailed for non-payment of fines last year

The latest figures shows there has been a significant drop in the number of imprisonments following new legislation.

Image: Shutterstock/RomanR

MORE THAN 2,000 people are still being sent to prison for not paying court fines, according to the Irish Prison Service report due to be published shortly.

In 2014, the United Nations expressed concern at the number of people going to prison for failure to pay fines in Ireland and told them to enact a law that would prevent it and offer an alternative to imprisonment.

Two years later a new law came into effect – the Fines Act – introducing new measures for fine repayments.

All fines over €100 can now be paid by installments, which means people are only brought to court if they default on repayments. Fines are also now set at a level that considers a person’s financial circumstances.

If people still don’t pay up, a judge can make an attachment order to deduct the outstanding debt from income other than social welfare.

In 2016, 8,439 people were incarcerated for not paying a fine, which was a significant drop from 15,099 in 2016.

This week the Cabinet noted the latest report shows that in 2017 there were 2,261 people imprisoned for non-payment of fines, a 73% decrease.

Court fine 

A government spokesperson said the latest figures show the first real impact of the implementation of the fines legislation.

The report also finds that there has been an increase of 7% in community orders issued by the courts. In 2016, there were 2,067 orders made, while in 2017 there were 2,215.

In 2017 there were 9,287 people put in prison, which is a decrease of 38.5% on the 2016 total of 15,099.

Ministers also noted that the introduction of an amendment to the Prison Rules in 2017 has brought Ireland into line with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Mandela Rules) in respect of issues of restricted regime and solitary confinement.

The government has welcomed the “very significant drop” in the number of prisoners in solitary confinement. These prisoners are removed from the general prison population and are on their own for up to 22 or 23 hours.

Solitary confinement

In the first quarter of 2017, there were 72 held in solitary confinement. This number fell to nine in quarter four of last year.

This is a significant fall from 211 prisoners being held in solitary confinement in 2013.

At this weeks Cabinet meeting, ministers also noted the Joint Irish Prison Service / Probation Service Strategic Plan 2018-2020 which sets out an ambitious set of actions and a multi-agency approach to offender management and rehabilitation from pre to post imprisonment.

The aim of joint up thinking is to reduce re-offending and improve prisoner outcomes. The strategy is underpinned by a recognition that the costs of re-offending by ex-prisoners can be devastating and long-term and are frequently felt by the most vulnerable in our society.

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