19/12/2011

UUP Slams Jailing Of NI Fine Defaulters

Gaol sentences are being used extensively across NI to punish those who fail to pay fines.

The news has been slammed by the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Justice Spokesperson, Basil McCrea, (pictured).

He said today that the number of people in Northern Ireland going to jail for failing to pay fines is not sustainable and has called for alternatives to custodial sentences for fine defaulters

Last week, it emerged that thousands of people in Northern Ireland have been imprisoned for failing to pay fines for minor crimes.

Shockingly, these even include non-payment of fines for not having a light on a bicycle, dropping litter, overtaking on the inside and fishing without a licence.

The data records that there have been 14,259 prison sentences for fine defaulting since January 2006.

Thanks to the investigative news website The Detail, it has emerged that around 2,000 people have been sent to prison every year since 2006 for the non-payment of court fines.
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Some people will have been sentenced more than once for non-payment of fines during the period.

In fact, fine defaulters make up around a third of total admissions to NI jails.

The largest unpaid fine was £500,000 for evading customs duty on goods and the lowest were three fines of £1.

Speaking after figures were uncovered that show 14,259 people have went to prison for non-payment of fines since 2006, Basil said: "The number of people being imprisoned each year for the non-payment of fines just isn't sustainable.

"These people do not pose a threat to society and handing out custodial sentences for such minor crimes is excessive.

"We urgently need to find a new solution for dealing with those who do not pay fines other than locking with up for a few days," he continued.

"The community service pilot scheme currently being run by the Probation Board is a feasible alternative to custodial sentences.

"They are too costly and fly in the face of the current consultation on prison reform," he concluded.

(BMcC/GK)

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