Belfast Telegraph

Prison inmate figures up by a third as 20 people jailed every day in Northern Ireland

Fine defaulters lead to the biggest increase in admissions

By Adrian Rutherford

More than 20 people are sent to prison every day in Northern Ireland.

In 12 months jails took charge of 8,000 inmates - up by almost a third in the space of three years.

Around a third of cases involved people jailed because they didn't pay a fine.

The figures are revealed in a Department of Justice report examining prisoner admissions between 2009 and 2012.

It noted that in 2012 the total number of admissions into prison was 8,004. The equivalent figure for 2009 was 6,087.

The largest year on year increase was from 2009 to 2010 (15%), but this had dropped to 2% between 2011 and 2012. Those figures relate to admissions rather than prisoners, and include inmates who were admitted for more than one spell in prison.

The rate of admissions per prisoner was 1.9 in 2012 – meaning the average prisoner had two spells in jail that year.

Remands – where someone is kept in prison until their trial – accounted for the largest proportion of all admissions between 2009 and 2012.

The number of remands into prison fell during 2012 – from 3,552 in 2011 to 3,440 in 2012 – the only year to see a decrease since 2009.

Fine defaulters were behind the biggest increase in admissions from 2009 to 2012, with 59% more during 2012 (2,473) compared with 2009 (1,554). The issue of jailing people who don't pay fines, reported by this newspaper 18 months ago, has been a source of controversy.

However, the practice has ceased after a landmark legal ruling last year which found it was unlawful.

Yesterday's bulletin also reveals the number of prisoners sentenced to custody has increased steadily, rising 20% from 1,547 between 2010 and 2012 and a further increase of 12% in 2012.

The report also provides an insight into the type of people sent to jail. Women accounted for 7% of prison admissions during 2012 – up from 5% in 2009. Most people sent to prison had relatively short sentences imposed. Of the 2012 admissions, 65% were for total sentences of one year or less.

A larger percentage of females received a shorter sentence than males – 31% of females were jailed for three months or less compared to 20% of males.

In 2012 the largest proportion of immediate custody prisoners were aged between 21 and 29 (43%). The next largest category (22%) was those aged between 30 and 39.

The bulletin also reviews why people are sent to prison. Violent offences were the biggest reason for custodial sentences, ranging from 19% to 23% between 2009 and 2012.

During 2012 violence was the main reason for men being sent to jail, accounting for 19% of cases, whereas for females it was theft (33%).


  • Separate figures show that, by the end of September last year, Northern Ireland had 101 prisoners for every 100,000 people in its population.
  • In England/Wales and Scotland the equivalent figures were 148 and 147 respectively.
  • The rate in the Republic of Ireland was 88.
  • Among selected European countries, Poland (217) had the highest rate of imprisonment whilst Finland with 58 had the lowest rate. The USA had a rate of 716.

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