Jail terms for unpaid fines branded 'harsh' as numbers increase
The number of people being sent to jail for defaulting on fines in Northern Ireland has risen by 170 in the last year, according to newly released statistics.
The figure went up from 456 in 2015 to 627 last year - an increase of 37%, although it still only accounts for 0.5% of the overall prison population, the Department of Justice figures revealed.
However, an Ulster Unionist MLA has said that there needs to be a better way of dealing with people who default on fines.
UUP justice spokesman Doug Beattie said: "I think we all have to agree that handing out custodial sentences for defaulting on a fine is a bit extreme.
"There should be a better method dealing with it.
"However, we do know for example that some drug dealers are escaping custodial sentences.
"But, in most cases giving out jail terms for failing to pay fines is harsh and extreme.
"We need better tools in the justice system to deal with it.
"As well as that, with the finite resources that we have within the justice system, we should avoid putting the Prison Service under pressure."
Published yesterday, the report on the Northern Ireland Prison Population 2016 examines the average daily prison population. Key findings of the report showed that the daily prison population decreased across all three jails - Maghaberry, Magilligan and Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre and Prison -for the second year in succession.
Across all three, the average inmate figure on a given day now stands at around 1,500 - which is down from just over 1,600 this time last year.
Despite this, more people were jailed in total.
For the first time since 2012, prison receptions increased; from 4,757 in 2015 to 5,199 in 2016, an increase of 9.3%.
The amount of men being incarcerated on a daily basis fell by 11% in 2016 to an average of 177, whilst the female figure stands at 54 compared to the figure of 56 in the previous year.
The age of the largest proportion of the population being sent straight from court to jail is between 21-29 years and stands at 33%, a substantial decrease since 2013 when it stood at 39.5%.
And life sentence prisoners accounted for almost 15% of the prison population.
The number of immigrant detainees increased from 24 to 74 from 2015 to 2016.
In 2015, Northern Ireland had 87 prisoners for every 100,000 people in the population.
The equivalent figure for Scotland was 143, in England and Wales it was 148, and for the Republic it was 80.