Recession to blame for rise in number of women jailed
THE impact of the recession and jailing for the non-payment of fines have contributed to a major rise in the number of women in Irish prisons.
New figures show that almost one in five people committed to prison here last year was female. A total of 3,093 female committals were recorded in 2014 - representing a significant increase on previous years.
The figures, released to Fine Gael TD for Louth Fergus O'Dowd, reveal that 19pc of all committals last year were women. Just over 2,000 people committed to prison in 2010 were women but the number has risen steadily every year since.
Last night, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) said it believed the impact of the recession has contributed to the sharp hike.
The organisation also said a sharp rise in the number of people being imprisoned for fines was another contributory factor.
"The trend is deeply worrying. The impact of a mother, for example, being sent to prison even for a few hours is huge on families. It can be extremely traumatic for children," said the IPRT's deputy director Fiona Ni Chinneide. "Generally, women are sent to prison for lesser offences, for example shoplifting. But certainly there are alternatives that need to be given much greater consideration."
Mr O'Dowd, who obtained the information through a parliamentary question, said the Government needs to adopt better strategies aimed at keeping women out of prison.
"The number of women being sent to jail is increasing and that must set off alarm bells," he said. "We have to find ways whereby prison is a last resort. It's vitally important that women, particularly those with children, can be kept out of prison if there are alternative forms of punishment."
The rise in women prisoners is revealed as the Department of Justice moves to introduce a new fine payment system aimed at reducing the number of people sent to prison over the non-payment of fines.
More than 9,000 people were committed to prison for this offence last year.
The Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014, signed into law in April, aims to eliminate, in so far as is possible, the need for judges to commit anyone to prison for the non-payment of a fine.
However, the measures are technical and require significant preparatory work by the Courts Service.
"There are significant changes in information technology required to ensure that the instalment payment system operates effectively and that the necessary accounting procedures are in place for the recording of payments," the department said.