Non-payment of fines reason for 80% of female committals

Irish Prison Service report shows overall numbers sent to prison rose to highest in five years

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said when the Fines Act 2014 takes full effect the figures on imprisonment for fines will change dramatically.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said when the Fines Act 2014 takes full effect the figures on imprisonment for fines will change dramatically. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

 

Almost 80 per cent of female committals to prison last year were for non-payment of fines, the Irish Prison Service annual report shows.

Overall committals rose by 6.5 per cent in 2015 to the highest number in five years. Almost 14,200 people were committed of which 21 per cent were women.

There were almost 9,900 committals for non-payment of fines by men and women last year, an increase of more than 10 per cent on 2014. And more than 2,660 were women.

When imprisonment for court fines was removed from the total figures, the number of committals was more than 7,300, with the numbers of women dropping to 8 per cent.

At the release of the report, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said when the Fines Act 2014, commenced at the start of 2016, takes full effect the figures on imprisonment for fines will change dramatically.

Under the Act, fines will be set at a level that takes into account the person’s finances, all of those fines over €100 can be paid by instalments and if a person fails to pay, the judge can consider a wage attachment order, a recovery order or a community service order. Imprisonment will only apply where alternative orders are deemed inappropriate or where a community service order was not complied with.

The report shows road and traffic offences caused the highest numbers of committals to prison last year at more than 4,750. This was followed by organised crime and offences against government, at 1,676, and public order offences, at almost 1,400. There were 44 committals for murder, 153 for sexual offences and 313 committals for burglary and related offences.

The majority of imprisonments, were for up to three months ( more than 10,200), followed by 1,270 for three to six months. Life sentences were handed out in 19 cases.

The annual report for the Probation Service was also released on Monday. It showed almost 15,000 people were dealt with by the service last year.

There were almost 8,500 referrals to the service from the courts, including more than 9,700 for reports prior to sanction and more than 1,500 for community service reports. The ages of those referred ranged from 12 to over 54, with the largest category aged 45 to54.

Offences committed by those referred to the service ranged from theft to homicide.

The prison service strategic plan was also launched. Michael Donnellan, director general of the Irish Prison Service, said its strategic plan and its capital investment plan, when implemented, would “see an end to slopping out”. It would also improve the work training environment and the general environment for the prison service. The prison psychology service is also to be revamped.

Ms Fitzgerald praised the enormously valuable work being carried out by both services as well as the “ever deepening levels of co-operation” between them.

She also said one of the key factors contributing to offending was the misuse of drugs and alcohol and she was pleased the probation service finalised its alcohol awareness programme and made it available for national delivery in 2015.

“I think we have much work to do on alcohol issues in Irish society, not just within the prison service and the probation services,” the Minister said.

Reponding to the report, the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, said chronic overcrowding continues at the Dóchas Centre women’s prison, as well as at Cork and Limerick prisons.

Advocacy officer Eoin Carroll said there were several unmet commitments in the prison service’s last strategic plan. And he said there was a worrying rise in the number of women sent to prison.