THE integrity of our prison system, and the respect in which it was generally held, were dangerously undermined by the fleeting but expensive imprisonment of offenders who refused to pay court-imposed fines.
Jailing those, or at least attempting to jail them, had put enormous pressure on the penal system with an almost four-fold increase in numbers between 2008 and 2015 — up from 2,520 committals to 9,892. These near-charades, invariably brief and utterly ineffective, accounted for 60% of the 17,200 committals in 2015.
This practice always seemed daft, an impression that is confirmed by the fact that there has been a 10% fall in the number of those jailed for not paying fines since laws were enacted to make it easier to ensure that fines are paid either through an attachment of earnings order, the appointment of a receiver to collect the fine or community service.
An Post administers the scheme and those in receipt of social welfare payments are not covered by the legislation.
This is a small but positive step in the right direction because the system had evolved into a farce and in far too many cases still is one. Too often the cost of collecting fines had gone far beyond any benefit the State might enjoy.
Maybe it’s time to reconsider the level of fines imposed too and kill two birds with one stone: Make the system a more effective, realistic set of deterrents and ensure that the offender, rather than the offended, foots the bill.
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