Community fundraiser tops $100,000 to pay jailed women’s fines
Indigenous women locked behind bars will “payoff” overdue fines and be set free after a community fundraiser topped $100,000 in two days.
The imprisoned women – and many more who face being brought into custody over unpaid dues – have been helped by more than 2,500 donors from Australia, the UK, New Zealand and other parts of the world.
Three women had their outstanding warrants cleared on Tuesday after the fundraiser paid off a total of about $6,600 in fines, Sisters Inside CEO Debbie Kilroy said.
Her Queensland-based advocacy group, which helps women and girls out of custody, started the GoFundMe on Sunday afternoon with the aim of helping 100 people.
But she thinks many more could be helped after the $100,000 mark was reached as early as Tuesday evening: “I just can’t believe how well it has gone.”
She said beneficiaries would include a young pregnant mother in custody over traffic fines and a Noongar woman Kilroy said had been threatened with arrest should police be called to her home over a domestic violence issue.
The issue of indigenous women incarcerated for unpaid fines made national news after a 22-year-old Aboriginal woman died in hospital after being locked up at South Hedland Police Station in 2014 for unpaid fines.
A coronial inquest into the death recommended keeping fine defaulters out of jail.
Indigenous women in WA were disproportionately locked up for fines they cannot pay, the Human Rights Law Centre said in 2017. The WA government promised to reform the system when it came to government in early 2017.
A spokesperson for Attorney-General John Quigley said the government took the issue very seriously and understood that “keeping fine defaulters in custody to ‘cut out’ their unpaid fines is not the most effective way to enforce fines payments and is economically unsound”.
She said a comprehensive package of amendments to the existing act would be introduced by July 2019.
“The Attorney-General is committed to ensuring the quality and content of the statute book and he will introduce this comprehensive package of reforms as soon as possible,” the spokesperson told AAP in a statement.
“[He] is considering the need to clear outstanding unserved WOCs (warrants of commitment) as part of the reform package.”
Currently, the registrar of the Fines Enforcement Registry has the authority to issue a WOC for unpaid fines as a last resort but the new legislation would have that power to a magistrate.
Kilroy accused the WA government of dragging their feet and said roughly 250 people would be incarcerated between now and July.