• Ms Dhu died in police custody in August 2014, two days after being locked up at South Hedland Police Station for unpaid fines totalling $3622. (SBS)Source: SBS
The Australian Law Reform Commission has recommended that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people work off their fines, rather than do time for them.
NITV Staff Writer

20 Jul 2017 - 2:15 PM  UPDATED 20 Jul 2017 - 2:15 PM

The Australian Law reform Commission has made a series of recommendations in particular that Indigenous people be allowed to work off unpaid fines, rather than being locked up.

In their discussion paper released on Wednesday, it was stated that Indigenous people were more likely to default on fines due to socioeconomic reasons, and at a rate higher than other Australians.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are over-represented as fine recipients and are less likely than non-Indigenous people to pay a fine at first notice (attributed to financial capacity, itinerancy and literacy levels), and are consequently susceptible to escalating fine debt and fine enforcement measures,” the report states.

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One quarter of the Australian prison population is Indigenous, and Western Australia has the highest rate of incarceration due to non-payment of fines.

From June 2006 to June 2015, 7462 prisoners were imprisoned in correctional centres in Western Australia. 38 per cent of whom were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander decent.

The report has recommended that alternatives be sought for fine default.

“Fine default should not result in the imprisonment of the defaulter. State and territory governments should abolish provisions in fine enforcement statutes that provide for imprisonment in lieu of unpaid fines.” the report states.

Although the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommended that all governments ensure that sentences of imprisonment were not automatically imposed for fine default, the issue remains.

“While the direct link between fine default and imprisonment has been removed from statutes nationwide, and fine mitigating options have been introduced, fine enforcement regimes still provide a pathway from a fine to imprisonment,” the report states.

“Further, regimes that use warrants of commitment permit imprisonment without hearings or trials. Imprisonment remains automatic at a certain point in the enforcement process.”

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The report included analysis on factors decision-makers take into account when sentencing.

These include community safety, availability of alternatives to incarceration, the degree of discretion available to decision-makers, incarceration as a last resort, and incarceration as a deterrent and as a punishment.