Government must stop sending vulnerable people to prison for fine default during COVID-19 crisis

Greens spokesperson for Corrective Services and Justice Hon Alison Xamon MLC has called on the Government to stop issuing Warrants of Commitment (WOCs) and suspend Work and Development Order (WDO) requirements if needed to ensure no Western Australians are sent to prison for fine default during the COVID-19 crisis.

Ms Xamon said the Government must ensure fines were not compounded at this time – particularly as people following official advice to self-isolate may not be able to go out to attend WDO activities, or to deal with fines in person.  

She said she was particularly concerned for the welfare of Aboriginal women - who made up 40% of the total number of women arrested for fine default in 2018-19.

“I am very concerned that, during the COVID-19 crisis, Aboriginal women experiencing family and domestic violence will not reach out for help because are afraid of being sent to prison for fine default,” Ms Xamon said

“We know that it is still the case in Western Australia that a person may be arrested and ultimately imprisoned for fine default, after reaching out for police assistance.”

Ms Xamon said an overhaul of the fines enforcement system was long overdue, not least because it formed a key recommendation in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody 30 years ago.

She said a fines enforcement system reform bill, which had passed the Legislative Assembly but was yet to be debated in the Legislative Council, was likely to be delayed even further as the Government focused on urgent COVID-19 related legislation.

“We know that the vast majority of fine default in the community comes from inability rather than unwillingness to pay – and compounding fines not only have a huge financial impact, but significantly affect a person’s mental health and wellbeing, especially at this difficult time,” Ms Xamon said.

“Aside from the human cost, it actually costs the state MORE to imprison fine defaulters than it recoups in fine debt by sending them to prison.”

Ms Xamon said the McGowan Government should be following the lead of other states and focusing on getting low-risk prisoners out of prisons in light of COVID-19, not sending more people in.

She said WA has an appalling record for imprisoning people for fine default, when compared with other states.

“From 2006 to 2019, there were 10,534 prison receptions for fine default only – this is in comparison with 272 in Victoria between 2010 and 2016. New South Wales has not issued an arrest warrant against a fine defaulter since 1998.

“Yet we continue to send some of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged people to prison.

“The Government must immediately stop issuing WOCs for fine default, to ensure that we are not adding to the burden for people who are already vulnerable, but even more so as they deal with the coronavirus pandemic.”



In 2018-19...

  • 433 people were imprisoned and 170 held in regional lock-ups for fine default
  • 210 (48.5%) of those were unemployed; 112 were women and 156 were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
  • 101 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were held in police lock-ups in the regions
  • 66 Aboriginal women (40% of the total number of women) were imprisoned of held in lock-ups Aboriginal women are now 19 times more likely to go to prison than non-Aboriginal women



  • Use of fines as a form of punishment has soared since the 1980s – now used in 80% of Magistrate’s Court cases
  • Unpaid fines are cut out in prison at $250 per day – yet it costs $770 per day to keep a prisoner for the first three days (and then about $340 per day after that). It costs $50 per day to supervise a person on a community work order
  • In 2013-14, the average amount paid off by incarceration was $732 – across 11,867 fines this amounted to $8,683,268 that the Government was unable to recover. It cost this, plus an additional $2 million to lock these fine defaulters up
  • In 2018-19, it cost the state $2,321,550 to expiate $753,750 in fine debt by imprisonment
  • WA incarcerates its indigenous people at the highest rate of ANYWHERE in the world
Muted colour photo of corridor behind metal stairs and rectangular wire wall