End imprisonment of vulnerable Western Australians for unpaid fines this Christmas!
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Our families need to be home for Christmas.
End imprisonment of vulnerable fine defaulters in Western Australia.
On average, 10 people are locked up every day in Western Australia, for not paying fines, and non-payment is usually due to circumstances of poverty.
In WA, there have been many instances of women calling police for assistance during a domestic or family violence situation, who have then been removed from the homes and imprisoned due to fine default. These women often have children, act as primary caregivers, and were the victims of violence.
In the case of Ms Dhu in 2014, her call to police for her partner breaching a domestic violence order, ultimately resulted in her own death in custody. This is not an isolated incident.
Aboriginal people are among some of the most likely groups in Australia to live in circumstances of poverty, and although they represent 2.5% of the population, they are overrepresented in prison due to fine default – of all women jailed for fine default, 64% of them are Aboriginal.
Western Australia is the only state that automatically imprisons people for defaulting on fines. While fines can be worked off in prison concurrently, if a person is to serve a community corrections order, they must work the fine off cumulatively. The current system incentivises prison, for people forced into a vulnerable situation.
For every day a person is incarcerated they write off $250 worth of unpaid fines, however this costs taxpayers $345 per day, and over $700 a day for the first week, and using this method, the fine amount is never recouped.
WA spent $42 million on imprisoning these non violent offenders from 2006 to 2014, a practice which also tears apart families, and disrupts communities.
There are alternatives.
Penalties such as Community Work Order Sentences cost just $43 a day, which allow people to take on Community Service work, saving money and keeping families together.
New South Wales introduced a Work and Development Order scheme for vulnerable and disadvantaged fine defaulters, whereby fines can be cut out by undertaking activities such as health treatment, counselling, life skills development etc. This means people who do not have the financial means or capacity to pay fines, can work off their fines at the same time as ensuring in the future they have a greater capacity to avoid infringements and give back to their communities. This scheme has been successful, and due to this been adopted and adapted for Queensland and Victoria by their respective governments.
Social Reinvestment WA is calling for the WA Parliament to act before Christmas 2017 to:
Mandate alternative options to imprisonment for fine defaulters to reduce incarceration rates.
Implement a work and development order scheme for vulnerable and disadvantaged persons (as currently used in New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland.)
Allow community work sentences to cancel unpaid fines concurrently rather than consecutively, in line with the current system for prison sentences. (See 2008 amendments to the Fines Penalties and Infringement Notices Enforcement Act 1994 WA.)
We need to end imprisonment of fine defaulters, and bring this state in line with the rest of the country.
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