More than 440 Galway people brought to prison last year were released within hours.
The vast majority of them were removed to jail because they had failed to pay fines imposed on them by the courts.
The figures from the Irish Prison Service were obtained by Galway West Independent TD Noel Grealish.
He said they showed how overdue were measures to end what he called this ’ridiculous merry-go-round’.
“These figures clearly suggest that some people have been just laughing in the face of the criminal justice system, refusing to pay fines in the knowledge that as soon as they arrive in prison they will be let out again immediately.
“More than two out of three Galway people brought to prison end up there because they haven’t paid fines — with almost all of them released within hours and sent home,” said Deputy Grealish.
New legislation which came into force last week means that people who fail to pay fines will no longer be sent to prison, except as a last resort.
The Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014 allows courts to have unpaid fines deducted from earnings or appoint a receiver to recover the money, with those who still default required to undertake community service.
Deputy Grealish had tabled a Parliamentary Question seeking information on the number of people from Galway who were released after being processed the same day they were brought to prison, or the next day.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that while figures were not available for 2015, the total number of people with Galway addresses sentenced to jail in 2014 was 592 — and 441 of them were released within hours.
“It should be noted that 437 or 99.1% of those released were serving a Fines sentence.
“Each committal on a fine is considered for temporary release by the Irish Prison Service on a case by case basis. In the majority of cases temporary release is granted within a number of hours.
“However, for serial offenders or for certain offences, ie Income tax, those prisoners may remain in custody to serve all or a portion of the sentence,” said Minister Fitzgerald.
Deputy Grealish said that it was clearly a waste of time and resources bringing most people to prison for non-payment of fines and he was glad this was about to end.
“These people are usually brought to prison by two Gardaí, who have their whole day taken up by this ridiculous merry-go-round, when most of those they are transporting to jail are likely to be released the same day.
“Some of these people treat the whole process as a joke — they are being fined in court for theft, assault, drugs offences or whatever, and then refusing to pay because they know they will never serve time. So they get off scot free.
“I’m glad that they will now pay a real penalty — and the new legislation removes the awful trauma of being brought to jail for some genuine people who for one reason or another have not paid their fines,” added Deputy Grealish.
Of the 441 Galway residents released within hours of bring brought to prison, most (328) had been brought to Castlerea Prison, 82 were processed at Mountjoy Female, with the remainder being processed at Limerick Male (12), Cork (5), Midlands (5) Mountjoy Male (4), Limerick Female (3),and Wheatfield (2).