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'Prison is for dangerous criminals': Drop in numbers sent to prison for non-payment of fines

More than 2,000 people were sent to prison for failure to pay a court-imposed fine last year.

Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

THE NUMBER OF people jailed for non-payment of court-imposed fines fell again last year, according to the Irish Prison Service.

According to the service’s annual report for 2017, launched by the Justice Minister this morning, there was a more than 40% drop in the total number of people sent to prison last year compared to 2016.

The report stated that legislation introduced in 2016 to address the jailing of people who did not pay fines had a “direct impact” on the number of committals.

The number of committals to prison as a consequence of the non-payment of a court ordered fine during 2017 decreased by 73% on the 2016 figure -  from 8,439 in 2016 to 2,261 in 2017. Of this, 563 were female while 1,698 were male.

This legislation changed the way the justice system deals with unpaid fines. Now, fines over €100 can be paid in installments and a judge can order it be taken from their wage if they still do not pay. A judge can also order community service if the person continues to avoid payment.

All of these steps are to be looked at before imprisonment is considered.

Speaking to reporters at the launch this morning, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said he believes “prison should be the place of last resort”.

Prison is for dangerous criminals, those who have been convicted of the most serious offences and I would hope that every effort would be made to move towards alternatives to prison, be that community service, fines, [or] otherwise.

There were 3,945 prisoners in the system on 31 December 2017- 3,646 were in custody. The majority were male but there were 144 women under sentence.

There are ten 17-year-olds – all male – in prison. There are 517 men over 50 and 74 women.

Numbers committed on a life sentence increased from six in 2016 to 16 last year.

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Source: Irish Prison Service

On 30 November, 420 people were in prison for homicide offences, 378 for sexual offences and 397 for attempts or threats to murder, assaults, harassment and related offences. There were 302 people in prison for burglary and 563 for theft.

There were also 347 people in jail for controlled drug offences.

The minister today also published strategic plans for both the prison and probation services.

He said it is imperative that agencies have effective interventions and programme in place that work in tackling “the problems of offenders, and reduce re-offending and victimisation”.

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