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The Imprisonment of Criminal Fine Defaulters in Ireland

  • Author(s): Farrell, Sharon Marie
  • Advisor(s): Turner, Susan
  • et al.

In 2013, 12,489 people in Ireland were committed to prison under sentence, and 8,121 (65%) of these individuals were committed to prison for the non-payment of a court ordered fine. That year was not unique. In fact, the last eight years have seen a continued increase in the number of people incarcerated for the non-payment of fines. The underlying issues that fuel the increase in the imprisonment of fine defaulters in Ireland are unknown. The present study explored individual experiences and interactions of fined offenders with the criminal justice system in order to identify barriers to compliance. By drawing on instrumental and normative models of compliance identified in the literature, and by utilizing data gathered from 40 in-depth interviews and 103 questionnaires with offenders who have paid fines as well as offenders who have defaulted on fines, the following research questions were addressed: (1) What role do financial means play in fine default? (2) Are there other factors working in opposition to or in tandem with financial means? (3) Are there practices within the criminal justice system that inhibit or facilitate the enforcement and payment of fines? (4) Do offenders perceive the criminal fine process as fair and equitable, and what impact do those perceptions have on shaping compliance / noncompliance? (5) Is imprisonment the primary deterrent factor among those who pay their fine, or are there other factors that influence compliance? The research revealed that while affordability plays a primary role in whether a fine is paid or not, other legal and extralegal factors also contribute to fine default, such as personal and family needs, forgetfulness or low priority, and the inability to negotiate and understand the criminal fine system. Overall there was a general sense of unfairness and dissatisfaction with the system--a dissatisfaction that was fairly consistent among both those who paid and did not pay their fines. Also, it would appear that for many, prison is not a deterrent factor when it comes to the enforcement of fines and for those who do pay, the fear of prison is not the primary reason for compliance.

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