• Ruben Yorkshire has been released and speaks out about being imprisoned for unpaid fines. (Vimeo)Source: Vimeo
Since Mr Yorkshire was released from prison on Sunday, almost $80,000 has been raised to assist Aboriginal single mothers, who like Mr Yorkshire, have been imprisoned in WA for unpaid fines.
Madeline Hayman-Reber

8 Jan 2019 - 3:06 PM  UPDATED 23 Jan 2019 - 3:40 PM

Rubeun Yorkshire has spoken out about his arrest and subsequent incarceration for defaulting on his fine payment plan.

The day he was arrested, he was on his way to the beach to meet – for the very first time – his biological father, when he had an argument with his friend.

“We were walking from my friend’s house, walking down and just having some words, then the police come on us, and just name-checked us out of nowhere, don’t know where,” Mr Yorkshire told NITV.

He said he then went to continue on to the beach where his father was waiting for him, but never made it – the WA Police returned to arrest him on the street for unpaid fines.

“As soon as they name-checked us my friend had to go the other way. Then I looked back and went the other way, tried to go to the beach, and I kept on walking and they pulled up on me again,” he said.

Mr Yorkshire said to the officers that he would do time to pay, expecting to be able to go to court and sort it out, but they arrested him on the spot and took him directly to the watch house.

“I told [WA Police] that was the reason I wanted to go [to the beach]. I’d arranged some time to meet this person, I had contacted him,” he said.

“Then I had to call him, like, just to let him know that I won’t be able to go, that it’s just not going to happen and I will see him when I can. He said, 'That’s alright, it’s kind of stupid but yeah I’ll wait until after.'”

Mr Yorkshire said was allowed two phone calls after he was detained, but was not given the option of a lawyer.

Meanwhile, in a new statement to NITV, WA Police have disputed claims his arrest was racially motivated.

"WA Police Force is required under law to detain a person in circumstances where they are subject to a Warrant of Commitment, and arrange for appropriate custody arrangements to be in place. WA Police Force works closely with the Department of Justice in respect to the appropriate custody arrangements," it read.

"WA Police Force rejects suggestions that Mr Yorkshire was “racially profiled” as has been reported."

Following the original article published on Sunday by NITV, Gerry Georgatos of the National Indigenous Critical Response Service was inundated with what he said was hundreds of offers to bail Mr Yorkshire out.

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Rubeun Yorkshire is being held in prison for $1700 of unpaid fines, despite having no prior criminal convictions.

“Ultimately one First Nations lawyer who prefers anonymity paid the fines,” Mr Georgatos told NITV.

“Reuben was released around noon on Sunday, picked up by his mum and ... so for the next day he was off to Carnarvon to perform in a theatre play for Yirri Yaakin.”

The office of the Western Australian Attorney-General also apologised to Mr Georgatos for Mr Yorkshire’s arrest, and said they will continue to work together to stop the imprisonment of fine defaulters.

Urgent amendments to the current legislation regarding fine defaults in the state are to be tabled when WA Parliament resumes in February.

“In discussions with the Attorney-General’s Office since Reuben’s incarceration, they have agreed to rush the amendments before parliament soon after its resumption," said Mr Georgatos

“But till then, as it is five weeks away till parliament resumes from its end of year leave, an estimated ten people a day like Reuben will be jailed. Sadly it’s a sick society that jails the poor for being poor.” 

It is estimated that approximately 250 people will be imprisoned between now and the resumption of WA Parliament, and that 130 of those people will be Indigenous Australians, with the majority of those 130 being Aboriginal single mothers.

In the meantime, Mr Georgatos and Debbie Kilroy from Sisters Inside have started a GoFundMe page, which has raised almost $80,000 since its launch on Saturday.

"The increasing numbers of Aboriginal single mothers who are being incarcerated across this country is shameful. They are the vastest group in the women's prison population, ... I think it's a national disgrace how we treat our First Nation's mothers," Ms Kilroy said.

“These are women who live in absolute poverty, who are homeless and can’t even afford to feed their children, but they’re actually arrested and put in prison for unpaid fines. It was time to take action."

While the priority is Aboriginal mothers, Ms Kilroy said any money left over would assist others who need it, and that people should get in touch.

Mr Georgatos and Ms Kilroy are also urging people to donate to their fundraiser, with aims to release 100 Aboriginal mothers.

Mr Georgatos also thanked NITV for telling Mr Yorkshire's story.

“I must pay the firmest respect to NITV, who without this story on Reuben’s plight we would not have secured his release before the due release date. This is the journalism that matters – where people’s lives matter," he said.

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