Dáil Éireann - Volume 475 - 27 February, 1997

Written Answers. - Non-Payment of Fines.

47. Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Justice the number of prisoners imprisoned on foot of civil debt or the non-payment of fines in 1996; the average amount involved; the average custodial sentence handed down; the average cost of imprisoning a person for that time; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5367/97]

69. Mr. O'Dea asked the Minister for Justice the average number of days served in prison by [1232] persons convicted for non-payment of debt in the year 1 January 1996 to 31 December 1996; and the number of persons who were in prison for this offence during that period. [5465/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen): I propose to take Questions Nos. 47 and 69 together.

The precise information sought by the Deputies is not available. However, in 1993, the latest year for which relevant information is available, the total number of persons committed for non-payment of debts, default of sureties and contempt of court was 277. In that year, 1,880 persons were committed in default of fines.

The number of such persons in custody at any one time is in the order of 1 to 1.5 per cent of the total prison population, i.e. about 30 people. This is due to the fact that many debtors make payment either on committal or shortly afterwards, so that the average amount of time spent in prison by individual debtors is quite short. It should also be noted that in the case of debtors or contempt of court cases, the Minister has no power to release such people until their debt is paid or they have purged their contempt in court. The Minister does have power over fine-defaulters.

As regards costs, the average, as distinct from marginal, cost of keeping a prisoner in prison is approximately £890 a week.