150 jailed for TV fine non-payment
Around 150 people are jailed each year in Northern Ireland for failing to pay TV licence fines, the Justice Minister has said.
David Ford revealed the figure in the Assembly as he faced questions on concerns that putting fine defaulters behind bars was over-burdening the prison system.
MLAs heard that 30% of all admissions to prisons in 2009/10 were for failing to pay various types of fine.
However the minister said he had started work towards changing how the justice system deals with fine defaulters, identifying alternatives to short prison sentences.
Detailing the impact of TV licence fines in particular, Mr Ford said: "In 2009 a total of 4,906 television licensing cases were prosecuted at court, 3,821 of which led to convictions.
"In 2010 there were 5,126 prosecutions, with 3,752 convictions. And in 2011 there were 4,905 prosecutions, with 3,415 convictions."
Mr Ford added: "On average 150 people per year end up in prison following non-payment of a fine for television licence evasion.
"I have recently published a series of proposals designed fundamentally to reform how the justice system deals with fine defaulters.
"My proposals include the development of a civilian fines enforcement service, greater use of community-based penalties as alternatives to custody, and new powers to allow for reductions from income in appropriate circumstances."
Mr Ford said the jail terms imposed related to the non-payment of fines, not the failure to have a licence.