State jails 7,000 for failure to pay fines
THE number of people jailed for failing to pay fines has soared almost fivefold since the recession began, new figures reveal.
Figures show the number of fine defaulters being locked up in the nation's overcrowded prisons rose from 1,335 in 2007 to 2,520 in 2008, to 4,806 in 2009. The provisional figure for last year is 6,681.
Prison officials say there is no apparent reason for the rise except that people do not have the money to pay their fines.
New legislation has been enacted to make it easier for people to pay fines imposed by the courts by instalment.
But the law has not yet been put into operation because of difficulties in the Courts Service information technology system.
Officials pointed out last night that the number of fine defaulters held in custody at a given time represented a small fraction of the overall prisoner population.
As an illustration, they said that 21 inmates locked up for not paying fines on a selected night accounted for only 0.4pc of the prison population.
The new legislation, when it is implemented, will allow a person to make an application to the court to pay the fine imposed by the judge over a year and, in exceptional circumstances, over two years.
Another section of the act, which has been in force since January, requires the court to take into account the person's financial circumstances before determining the amount of the fine, if any, to be imposed.
An initiative to encourage the courts to make greater use of the community service programme for minor offenders is also in the pipeline.