The Irish Penal Reform Trust, Ireland’s leading penal reform campaign organisation, has today expressed concern at the soaring numbers continuing to be sentenced to imprisonment for failure to pay fines, despite the signing of the Fines Act 2010 into law on 2nd June 2010. The full commencement of this legislation, along with the passing of the Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Bill 2011 at the earliest possible date by the next Government, are critical to addressing the chronic overcrowding and consequent impact on conditions in Irish prisons.Responding to a Dáil Question on 1st February, 2011 Minister for Justice and Law Reform Brendan Smith gave the figure of 6,681 people imprisoned for non-payment of court ordered fines in 2010. (The exact figure is subject to change as statistics are finalised by the Irish Prison Service.)
Exactly eight months after the legislation was signed into law by the President, and almost 11 months after the Fines Bill was passed by the Dáil, the fines legislation – which was welcomed by all agencies as urgent and necessary – is still not yet fully commenced because the Courts Service ICT System is not ready to facilitate the payment of fines by instalment. In the meantime, thousands continue to be imprisoned. The figures also indicate that the principle of imprisonment as a last resort in the case of fine defaulters, included in the legislation, has not yet become reality.While there is no final figure for the overall total number committed to prison last year, this figures suggests that as many as half of the total number of people who enter prison under sentence are there for fine default.
Although most fine defaulters are released after only a short time in prison, this redundant exercise is extremely costly and wasteful in terms of Courts, Gardaí and prison resources. Moreover, the futility of this practice is proven by the fact that 85% of those sentenced to imprisonment for fine default return to prison within 4 years, putting further future burden on a prison system already in crisis.
Speaking today, IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick said:
“At a time of scarce resources, the continuing damaging and wasteful practice of imprisonment for fines should be a cause of national embarrassment. This rising rate of imprisonment is proof that our system of fines is not functioning; and while the enactment of legislation to address this is welcome, the failure to follow-up at the administrative level is costing significant amounts on an ongoing basis. As well as avoidable costs to prisons, courts and Gardaí, more importantly individuals are being committed to our overcrowded and unsafe prisons in cases where judges have already determined that prisons sentences are not appropriate.”
IPRT is now calling on all parties to:
- Commit to passing the Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Bill 2011 at the earliest opportunity
Ensure the full commencement of the Fines Act 2010 in order to bring to an end the ineffective, costly and damaging practice of imprisoning people for non-payment of fines