MORE than 3,300 people have been locked up for failing to pay fines up to the end of October this year – a jump of over 50% on the total figure for 2008.
Fine Gael justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan strongly criticised the sharp rise in the imprisonment of people for defaulting on fines. He said the law should be changed to allow the state to deduct money from salaries and social welfare income to pay the fines.
Figures supplied to him by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, in a reply to a parliamentary question, show:
n3,366 people have been put behind bars for failing to pay fines up to the end of October of this year.
nThis compares with 2,154 people in the whole of 2008 – a rise of 56%.
nA further 157 people have been jailed for non-payment of a civil debt – compared with 276 in 2008.
Mr Flanagan said the rise in imprisonment for fine faulting occurred despite the high cost of keeping a person in jail, overcrowding in prisons and evidence that community service programmes save the taxpayer huge amounts of money.
“The justice minister is presiding over a system that packs our prisons full of minor offenders despite national and international experts reporting Irish jails are dangerously overcrowded and rife with drugs.”
He said an attachment of earnings orders and community service orders were the obvious solutions to fine defaulting.
“An Attachment of Earnings Order is a far more practical and cost-effective solution than a prison sentence, as it allows money to be incrementally deducted from salaries or social welfare. It also means that money is coming back into state coffers rather than being spent on locking up minor offenders,” said Mr Flanagan.
“Attachment of Earnings Orders are a more practical solution – especially seeing as fine defaulters serving sentences still owe the fine on their release.”
He said the department had recently published a report which found that community service orders were a “very cost-effective option” and that prisons were almost seven times more expensive.
“At a time when more and more people are losing their jobs and struggling to make ends meet financially, it is preposterous to be jailing those unable to pay debts and fines.”
In his reply, Mr Ahern said the number of people held in custody for non-payment of fines and civil debts at any one time was a “tiny fraction” of the overall prisoner population.
“To illustrate this point, on 11 November, 2009 approximately 0.4% of the numbers in prison custody that day fell into the fines category. On the same day there were no persons in prison custody for non-payment of a civil debt,” said Mr Ahern.
The minister is currently pushing the Fines Bill through the Oireachtas which is expected to change the law in relation to the jailing of people for defaulting on fines.
There are suggestions from the department that fines below €300 will no longer result in offenders being jailed. Instead, community service orders will apply.
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