Jailings over fines down by 1,000 cases

The imprisonment of offenders for failing to pay court-ordered fines has put enormous strain on the prison system

The number of people being jailed for failing to pay court fines has fallen by around 1,000.

The decrease follows an introduction of laws aimed at effectively eliminating the sanction.

“We can confirm that preliminary figures show there has been a reduction in 2016, to the end of October, of about 1,000 or 10% on the previous year,” an Irish Prison Service spokesman told The Irish Examiner.

It is estimated that between 7,000 and 7,300 fine defaulters have been jailed to the end of October this year, down around 1,000 on the same time last year.

The imprisonment of offenders for failing to pay court-ordered fines has put enormous strain on the prison system, with numbers increasing almost four-fold between 2008 and 2015 — from 2,520 committals to 9,892 committals.

Fine committals accounted for 60% of all 17,200 committals to prisons in 2015. The system was brought into disrepute as the main committal prisons were forced to spend time and resources processing fine defaulters into the prison, only to release most of them within a few hours.

Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act

The main aims of the act, updated in 2014, were to support the administration of justice when fines are imposed by the courts; ensure that the fines imposed by the courts are collected; and reduce, to the minimum possible, the number of people committed to prison for non-payment of fines.

Under the act, those who refuse to pay a court fine face a number of sanctions, before the ultimate one of imprisonment is considered.

Almost €36 million worth of fines were left uncollected in the last four years.

An estimated €35,910,000 remains outstanding. Fianna Fáil Justice Spokesperson Jim O’Callaghan TD is calling for the Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald to ensure that the Courts Service has the necessary resources to collect fines that have been ordered for collection by it for offences.

"What’s very concerning is that the amount left uncollected more than doubled between 2014 and 2015. This is a very worrying trend, and we need to increase collection rates," added O’Callaghan.

"This is a sizable sum of money that could, and should, have been put to good use by the State."