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Failing fines system pushes up prison numbers

Simon Power
National Party Law & Order Spokesman

5 September 2006

Failing fines system pushes up prison numbers

The Government is letting people rack up fines so big that they have no hope of paying them, leaving judges with no option but to send them into already overcrowded prisons, says National's Law and Order spokesman, Simon Power.

He is releasing figures that show that the number of people being sent to prison in lieu of outstanding fines has doubled in the past three years.

“The system is clearly not working when people are committing crimes to get a prison sentence instead of paying their fines, as a Gore man who owed $18,866 did earlier this year.”

The number of people being sent to prison in lieu of outstanding fines has gone from 140 in 2002/03 to 293 in 2005/06, while the average amount owed by those imprisoned has also doubled, from $5,000 to $10,921.

“Labour has been promising for months that they’re going to deal with the issue of fines, but nothing has happened.

"It seems imprisonment is becoming more of an option as people clock up higher and higher fines and judges are left with few choices.

"And that’s contributing to a blow-out in the prison population, which is being driven by more short-term sentences than tougher sentences for serious offenders.”

“Judges need legislation to be more creative on fines recovery.”

Mr Power has also obtained information that shows the number of offenders sentenced to community work in lieu of outstanding fines has decreased, from 3,923 in 2002/03 to 2,830 in 2005/06. However, the average value of that fine has increased by 50%, from $4,537 to $6,784.

Of all fines remitted, 51.5% are due to alternative sentences (community work or prison) being handed down.

"Since the Government is projecting that the amount of fines to be remitted will increase by a further $6 million in the coming year, that's going to mean even more people in our jails.”


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