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justice system

Here's how 7,500 people went to jail for not paying fines in 2012

An average of 20 people a day were jailed for non-payment of fines last year – despite moves to reduce the figures.

ALMOST 7,500 PEOPLE were sent to jail in 2012 for not paying fines, according to new figures.

The numbers, which translate to an average of 20 people per day, are a significant increase on previous years despite recent moves to stop so many people from being sent to prison for the offence, which is considered relatively minor.

There has been a growing consensus that jailing people for shorts periods of time – often just hours – for not paying a fine is an ineffective way to deal with the issue and a major waste of resources.

The cost of sending so many people to jail has been estimated to be at least €2 million per year.

The Government has announced plans for a radical overhaul of the system which will allow people to pay fines in instalments spaced over a year. However the new system requires a major overhaul of the IT system in the courts service and is estimated to cost €400,000.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust said the practice of imprisoning people for defaulting on fines was “wasteful” and made “no sense”.

Jane Mulcahy of the IPRT pointed out that 85 per cent of people who are sentenced for the offence return to prison within four years.

  • The total number of people jailed for non-payment of fines:
  • 2012: 7,467
  • 2011: 6,727
  • 2010: 5,995
  • 2009: 4,350

A spokesperson for the IPRT told

Imprisonment for fine default not only causes great distress to the defaulter, but also costs the State considerable resources not only in terms of arresting, transporting and imprisoning the defaulter, as well as the lost revenue of the fine itself where it is mitigated or “purged” by a term of imprisonment, however brief.

Dramatic increase in recent years

Justice Minister Alan Shatter released the numbers in response to a question from Dublin West TD Patrick Nulty this week.

The Minister told the Dáil that the number of people in jail at any one time for not paying fines is a tiny percentage of the overall prisoner population.

However the figures have been growing dramatically in recent years; just 2,520 people were jailed in 2008 for not paying fines, one third of the number sent to jail for the offence last year.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said the Fines (Amendment) Bill should be published before the summer and is likely to be enacted by the end of the year.

Read: Law reform will allow fines to be paid in instalments >

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