Surge in numbers sent to jail for driving offences last year
THE number of people jailed for road traffic offences jumped by 60pc last year, the annual report of the Irish Prison Service has revealed.
The shocking surge comes on the back of increased garda enforcement of road traffic laws and a more hardline approach by district judges.
According to the report, 3,601 people were jailed for driving offences last year, compared to just 2,254 in 2008.
Almost three-quarters of those jailed were given sentences of three months or less.
The Road Safety Authority (RSA) last night said it was disappointing that so many people were breaking the traffic laws.
"It is not something that anyone is pleased with," said RSA spokesman Brian Farrell. "But it does show that if you break the road traffic laws there is a real danger you could end up in the courts and facing a sentence."
So far this year, 124 people have died on the country's roads -- 16 fewer than were killed in the same period last year.
The effects of the recession are also reflected in the report, which reveals a noticeable rise in the number of people jailed for non-payment of court order fines during 2009.
The figure has jumped 91pc -- from 2,520 in 2008 to 4,806 last year. It represents a 260pc increase on 2007, when just 1,335 were jailed for non-payment of fines.
Total prison committals rose from 13,557 in 2008 to 15,425 last year, a jump of 13.8pc.
The increased number of inmates has placed even greater pressure on the prison system, with nine of the country's 15 corrections facilities operating above their inmate capacities throughout the past year.
The average daily number of prisoners in custody stood at 3,881, compared to 3,544 the previous year.
Committals for serious drugs offences were also up, with 139 people jailed for between three and five years for narcotics supply in 2009, compared to just 77 the previous year.
Prison committals for immigration issues were down by a third, however, with 961 people detained last year -- most for fewer than eight days.
A snapshot of the prison population on December 4 last year showed 7.2pc was made up of sex offenders, while 18.8pc were serving sentences for drugs offences.
Some 25 people were in prison on that day for non-payment of fines, but there was no one jailed for non-payment of debt.
One-fifth of the prisoners that day were in protective custody for their own safety.
More than a third of all inmates jailed last year were from Dublin, 11.2pc from Cork and 6.8pc from Limerick.
Three-quarters of the prison population were Irish-born, 2pc were from the UK and 13pc from the rest of Europe. African-born inmates accounted for almost 5pc of the prison population, while 3.2pc were nationals of Asian countries.
Some 22 people were given life sentences for rape, murder and manslaughter last year.
Meanwhile, the clampdown on the smuggling of drugs and other illegal items into prisons continued last year -- 311 people arrested for attempting to smuggle contraband.
Some 2,174 phones were also seized in prisons, compared to 2,047 the previous year.
There were 814 recorded incidents of violence among prisoners during 2009.