Garda taxi bill for fine defaulters nears €4m
GARDAI have spent millions on taxis to ferry fine defaulters and debtors to jail for stays of just a few hours, the Irish Independent has learned.
Almost €4m has been spent on taxis in the last four and half years because gardai say they will not take patrol cars off the streets to bring people with unpaid fines or personal debts to jail.
The Irish Prison Service (IPS) says the majority of fine and debtor cases only spend a few hours in jail.
In some instances they are given money for transport home if they have no cash upon their release.
The fine they were sent to jail for is generally decreased -- or even wiped out entirely -- when they leave.
A garda accompanies the person in the taxi to the prison but taxis are not used for prisoners convicted of violent crimes.
The figures emerged as the number of people jailed for failing to pay fines soars.
In 2009, almost 5,000 people were jailed for failing to pay fines, more than twice the number in 2008 and almost four times the figure for 2007.
Around 200 people a year go to prison for unpaid personal debts. However, the spending on taxis peaked in 2008 at €918,000, before falling to €783,000 last year.
Just under €600,000 had been spent until September of this year, which is likely to rise to around €800,000 by the end of the year.
The figures for 2007 and 2006 were €801,000 and €632,000 respectively. Fines range from disorderly conduct and motoring offences to the non-payment of TV licences.
The money is paid to taxi firms all over the country, to bring people to jails such as Mountjoy, Cork and Limerick.
Figures for the number of taxis used and a breakdown per district were not provided by gardai, and the IPS says it is not possible to provide a figure for the number of people jailed because of unpaid fines, but who subsequently had their fines decreased and were released.
Prison officers said "chronic overcrowding" meant many debtors were being turned away immediately after arrival.
"These people are turned away within a couple of hours -- some straight away -- because there is no room for them," Eugene Dennehy of the Prison Officers' Association (POA) said.
"It is a ridiculous situation. Alternatives to sending these people to prison, such as taxation orders, must be looked at."
An IPS spokesman said "persons serving sentences in lieu of the non-payment of a fine are generally granted early release".
"Some may make an offer towards their fine and the remainder may be mitigated.
"Others may be granted some form of temporary release, and others may not be released until the costs are met."
A garda spokesman defended the taxi spending, saying it meant patrol cars were not taken off the streets.
Last week, prison inspectors at Mountjoy said sending people to jail for unpaid fines was "ridiculous".