Greens welcome Government reform following release of fine default imprisonment data

Greens spokesperson for justice Hon Alison Xamon MLC has welcomed the Attorney General’s introduction of legislation to reform the state’s approach to fine defaulters as questions she asked in parliament revealed that in 2018-19:

  • 433 people were imprisoned and 170 people were held in regional police lock ups across WA for failing to pay fines
  • The average time spent imprisoned for fine default was 5 days (with 92 days the maximum time)
  • 210 of those imprisoned last year for fine default were unemployed at the time of arrest, 112 were women, and 156 were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
  • 66 Aboriginal women were imprisoned or held in police lock ups for fine default
  • 101 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were held in police lock ups in regional locations for fine default

“Imprisoning people for defaulting on the payment of fines represents a completely disproportionate response to minor offending”, said Ms Xamon. “The case of Ms Dhu, who died in police custody after being locked up for unpaid fines, highlights the potentially tragic consequences of not putting in place appropriate alternatives to prison for vulnerable people who are unable to pay fine debts.”

“The Australia Law Reform Commission in its inquiry into the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People got it completely right in saying that when someone is unable to pay a fine or infringement notice, has not applied for time to pay or other payment options; has no income or property to be the subject of civil orders; and is unable to complete a community work order, that person requires assistance, not prison,” said Ms Xamon.

Ms Xamon recently co-hosted a forum at WA Parliament to raise awareness of the important issue of the imprisonment of people for fine default.

“This reform is long overdue. WA is the only state that regularly imprisons fine defaulters, rather than prison being an option of last resort,” said Ms Xamon. “There are better, more just and fair options to prison for fine default – and these are far less costly to the tax payer.”

“While I welcome the Attorney General’s reforms, and I look forward to considering the detail of the legislation introduced today, it is essential that appropriate community work options are available to all fine defaulters, including those who may have caring responsibilities, disability, who live in rural and remote areas, or who are otherwise unable to undertake physical labour,” said Ms Xamon. “Furthermore, we must ensure any garnishee provisions do not unfairly impact on vulnerable individuals and their families.”

“Given that it costs over $300 per day to keep someone in prison, it just does not make sense to regularly lock up people for fine default; particularly when there are far more sensible, cost effective and humane ways to deal with the issue of fine default.”

picture of prison cell