The Irish Penal Reform Trust, Ireland’s leading penal reform campaign organisation, has today expressed concern at the soaring numbers continuing to be sentenced to imprisonment for failure to pay fines, despite the signing of the Fines Act 2010 into law on 2nd June 2010. The full commencement of this legislation, along with the passing of the Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Bill 2011 at the earliest possible date by the next Government, are critical to addressing the chronic overcrowding and consequent impact on inhumane conditions in Irish prisons.
Responding to a Dáil Question on 1st February, 2011 Minister for Justice and Law Reform Brendan Smith gave the figure of 6,681 people imprisoned for non-payment of court ordered fines in 2010. (The exact figure is subject to change as statistics are finalised by the Irish Prison Service.)
Exactly eight months after the legislation was signed into law by the President, and almost 11 months after the Fines Bill was passed by the Dáil, the fines legislation – which was welcomed by all agencies as urgent and necessary – is still not yet fully commenced because the Courts Service ICT System is not ready to facilitate the payment of fines by instalment. In the meantime, thousands continue to be imprisoned. The figures also indicate that the principle of imprisonment as a last resort in the case of fine defaulters, included in the legislation, has not yet become reality.
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