Who is really paying for the price of justice? The “fine” Detail has been doing its sums …

The Detail’s Kathryn Torney has published an analysis of NI prison admissions due to fine defaulting. Information held in the Prison Records Management System covering 14,259 prison admissions over a 70 month period was released under a Freedom of Information request. The data shows that 2000 people go to jail in NI every year for fine defaulting – around a third of prison admissions.

The Criminal Justice Inspectorate has also spoken out strongly.

Chief Inspector Dr Michael Maguire said: “The number of fine defaulters in prison is simply unacceptable, does nothing to address the needs of offenders or society and makes the prisons much more difficult to run.”

The statistics are staggering.

Fine default reasons - from TheDetail.tv

  • Over the 70 month period, the 14,259 defaulted fines added up to £4.8 million – all written off once the sentences given are complete.
  • 89% of fine defaulters had unpaid fines of £500 or less.
  • 92% of sentences given were between 7 and 14 days.

Fine default prison sentence lengths - from TheDetail.tv
Fine default prisoners typically serve a third of their sentence.

  • Motoring offences make up half (49%) of the defaulted fines. 4,600 people without insurance.
  • Non-payment of fines for not having a TV licence 5% – 728 people.

Fine default sizes - from TheDetail.tv
The article points to a lack of consistency between the value of the defaulted fine and the time served.

Justice comes at price.

It has been estimated that it costs £3,000 for a four-day committal of a prisoner.

Overcrowded prisons + planned reductions in staff levels = time to reassess the applicability custodial sentences?

The Criminal Justice Inspectorate suggests that for some people, a few days stay at Her Majesty’s Pleasure is a cheap way to pay off a fine.

What are the alternatives?

  • Encouraging the prompt payment of fines (and thus reducing defaulting) is also an option the Department of Justice proposed in their summer consultation, along with powers to deduct fine monies from wages or social security benefits.
  • A trial of the Supervised Activity Orders scheme – unpaid community work for between 10 and 100 hours in order to pay off fines up to £500 – starts in January. Maybe in future the Probation Service will be able to staff traffic wardens attendants in towns and cities across NI, and win the work off NSL Service Group who currently supply the red-jumpered enforcement army.

The full article is worth a read, along with its graphs. A fine piece of data analysis.