One of the major reasons Western Australia’s prison population is at a record high is because the State is jailing poverty stricken fine defaulters. The State’s Corrective Service Minister, Joe Francis, supports the jailing as a due punishment.
More than 15 per cent of Western Australia’s prison population is comprised by fine defaulters. Ludicrously, they clear the unpaid fines at $250 per day by being in jail while at the same time it costs the Corrective Services budget $350 per day to keep a prisoner locked up. In NSW, the practice of arresting, sentencing and locking up fine defaulters was outlawed in 1988.
The majority of fine defaulters are just poor.
Mr Francis said, “Just because you are on welfare and you can’t afford to pay a fine doesn’t mean you should be exempt from the ramifications of the justice system.”
During the last several years the incarceration of fine defaulters has increased each year. From 2008 to 2013, there has been more than a 500 person increase. In 2008, 194 Western Australians were locked up for fine defaults. In 2013, 1100 Western Australians were locked up because they could not pay their fines.
The State’s Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples are disproportionately burdened, once again and as per usual. They comprise less than 3 per cent of the State’s total population but are about 45 per cent of the State’s prison population. A couple of years ago the State built its 14th adult prison – an all-Aboriginal prison. Western Australia is the mother of all jailers of Aboriginal peoples, not just in Australia but in the world. One in 13 of all the State’s Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander adult males are in prison.
Nearly half the Western Australians jailed for fine defaults are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders. While the most of the rest of the nation is pursuing reforms and reducing the jailing of fine defaulters, Western Australia is at breakneck speed slamming prison doors on them.
The further west we journey across this continent the more racist it gets, the harsher it gets on our poorest, on the marginalised, on the downtrodden.