20 jailed daily for opting not to pay fines
CASH-STRAPPED workers are opting for a stint in prison rather than paying up fines, a leading charity has said.
St Vincent de Paul was reacting to new figures that reveal that some 20 people are being jailed every day for the non-payment of fines.
Charity workers have been told by some hard-pressed citizens that they are accepting time in prison because they cannot afford to settle the fine.
The news comes as the Department of Justice has confirmed that almost 7,500 individuals were imprisoned for the non payment of fines offence in 2012 – the highest number in years.
This is despite a raft of previous government commitments to end the practice of jailing people for defaulting on court-imposed fines.
According to the figures, 7,467 people were jailed last year "solely for non-payment of fines".
This represents an increase of 740 committals on 2011 when 6,727 individuals were jailed.
And the 2012 figure shows that there has been a 70pc increase in the overall number being jailed for this offence since 2009.
The St Vincent de Paul Charity has dealt with people who have opted to accept a jail sentence as they did not have the means to pay the fine in question.
"The increase in numbers being imprisoned for non-payment of fines would appear to be a direct consequence of the increasing financial pressure which is being witnessed by SVP volunteers visiting homes throughout the country," a spokesman said.
"Those who are struggling are constantly having to make choices about what are their most urgent bills to pay.
"It is not just those on low pay or dependent on social welfare payments who seek the support of SVP. Increasingly they include middle-income families and those formerly self-employed whose businesses have all but vanished."
The figures, obtained by Labour TD Patrick Nulty, mean that an average of 20 people are being sent to prison every day for failing or refusing to pay fines.
Deputy Nulty described the figure as "absolutely outrageous", adding that there is a range of other options that should be availed off by the justice system.
"It's totally inappropriate for people – who are struggling immensely – to be sent to prison and forced to share a facility that also houses people involved in serious crime," he told the Herald.
New measures aimed at making it easier for people to deal with fines were published by the Justice Minister last year.
The measures are designed to allow people to pay fines over a 12-month period and will also enable employers to deduct the amount from wages.