• The campaign to free Aboriginal women in prison has raised more than $230,000 in just 5 days. (SistersInside GoFundMe)
A young mum of three and domestic violence victim living in fear of being arrested over unpaid fines has had her warrant paid out, with many other women in a similar predicament identified by campaign organisers.
By
Madeline Hayman-Reber

Source:
NITV News
11 Jan 2019 - 3:37 PM  UPDATED 11 Jan 2019 - 4:05 PM

Earlier this week, a 22-year-old mother of three from WA who had escaped a domestic and family violence situation, was living in fear of being arrested by police for a Warrant of Commitment (WOC), issued after she was unable to afford to pay a court imposed fine.

Thanks to Sisters Inside’s Debbie Kilroy and Gerry Georgatos, the national coordinator for the National Child Sexual Abuse Trauma Recovery Project that prospect no longer hangs over the young woman's head. 

The phenomenal success of their FreeThePeople GoFundMe page, which was set up on Monday by Ms Kilroy, has already resulted in the release of one young mother from prison and the payment of warrants to keep another three women from going behind bars.

Ms Kilroy told NITV News the team behind the initiative is eyeing off assisting another 30 women who face the same predicament. 

The campaign surpassed its original goal of $99,000 in just two days. At time of publication –day five of the campaign –$232,000 had been raised.

"Every cent is going to be spent on getting women out of prison, or keeping women out of prison," Ms Kilroy told NITV.

"We want to see no more Aboriginal women in prison, at all. No more women arrested for warrants, ... no more women dying in custody.

"It is time for this country to step up and support Aboriginal women, ... and address this issue of poverty that they are languishing in," she said.

The campaign aims to help 100 Western Australian Aboriginal mothers facing a term of imprisonment over a WOC, or already incarcerated for unpaid fines. 

They name-checked us out of nowhere: Ruben Yorkshire speaks out
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.

National Child Sexual Abuse Trauma Recovery Project's Gerry Georgatos said the campaign has become a unique movement to support vulnerable Indigenous women and men.

“Everyone is coming together to free people, to prevent incarceration, to galvanise urgent legislative reforms,” he said.

The first woman the campaign assisted was released from prison on Wednesday. Aged 22, she had been homeless and unable to afford to pay her fines. Along with her release from prison, money from the campaign will secure 12-months of safe accommodation for her.

Ms Kilroy said the goodwill and support for the campaign from the Australian public was "uplifting".

" All the people who are donating as much as they can... we've even had the support of Yael Stone - the most brilliant Australian actress who is in Orange is the New Black," she said.

"[Yael] contacted me, and has been promoting the campaign and has donated. It's just brilliant the generosity of people."

The campaign goes beyond simply raising money, says Mr Georgatos. Along with Ms Kilroy, he will met with various agencies and officials who were keen to help since the launch of the campaign.

"Yesterday I met with Dennis Eggington, the CEO of WA's Aboriginal Legal Services and they are on board with the campaign to free people and prevent the incarceration of others for unpaid fines,” he said.

“I met with Professor Neil Morgan, the Inspector of Custodial Services and his colleagues, and they too are on board. I met with the Assistant Commissioner for WA's Corrective Services, Ray Edge and the Corrective Services are on board in identifying who is incarcerated for unpaid fines.”

The campaign has also involved working with WA Police and the office of the Attorney General to ensure the arrest of people for WOCs ceases until new state legislation can be passed when the WA parliament resumes.

Meanwhile, the office of the Attorney General has told NITV not a single Aboriginal woman has been jailed for a fine default since the beginning of the GoFundMe campaign on Monday.

“The McGowan Government takes this issue very seriously. We know 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,” a representative for the Attorney General said in a statement.

“It is the Attorney General’s intention to introduce a comprehensive package of amendments to the Fines, Penalties and Infringement Notices Enforcement Act 1994 (WA) to the Parliament in the first half of 2019, the effect of which will be to ensure that imprisonment for fine default is truly a last resort and only possible if ordered by a Court.”

The amendments are set to allow people who cannot afford to pay their fines to pay them in either by instalments or other means, including letting people work off the owed amount, bringing WA in line with the other states. 

The Attorney General is also considering the need to clear all outstanding unserved WOCs as part of the reform package, said the representative.

Sisters Inside concerned Serco running new private women's prison
Serco was running the Southern Queensland Correctional Centre as a male prison, but it will now be the state's first women's private prison.