Letter: Jail, fines and injustice

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From Ms Mary Honeyball

Sir: Prison has long been a rather uncomfortable expediency for dealing with those who will not or cannot pay their fines. After the Home Secretary's welcome announcement that fine defaulters should no longer be imprisoned, we should now be alert to the danger of another, though slightly less uncomfortable, expediency filling the void ("Howard to end jail for fines debtors", 14 February).

Our first duty must be to see that the fine imposed is viable, something which the too hastily abandoned "unit" fines did. Then we should review the enforcement procedures which make sure offenders do not forget that discharging their fine is not an option they can afford to neglect. Too often these intermediate stages seem to be leapfrogged. Only when these two parts of the system are functioning properly should we look at the possibility of altering, and upping, the original sentencer's decision into the bracket covered by another sentence.

When an uncollected fine is turned into a prison sentence, or possibly in the future a community sentence, the court is spending money rather than collecting it. In these cases inefficiency and injustice are too easily combined.

Yours faithfully,

Mary Honeyball

General Secretary

Association of Chief Officers

of Probation

London, E1

15 February