Ombudsman condemns automatic jail for not paying fines

Prison interior with dramatic lightThe national ombudsman has condemned the current policy of jailing people who fail to pay traffic and other fines, describing it as pointless and disruptive to daily life.

Last year, the public prosecution department made almost 140,000 requests to jail people for non-payment of fines and 21,000 people were actually locked up. Most of the unpaid fines were for traffic offences.

The practice of jailing people for non-payment of fines is known as gijzeling, literally being taken hostage, in Dutch. People can then be locked up for up to seven days and still have to pay the fine on their release.

Some 40% of those who are threatened with jail go on to pay the fine instead.

Ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen says the threat is ineffective and does not deal with the problem of people who cannot pay. In addition, the cost to society far outweighs the financial gain for the treasury, he said.

The current system is completely automated with no room to consider individual circumstances.