Ngalla Maya CEO, Mervyn Eades, who is also the chair for First Nation’s Death in Custody Committee, has started a new campaign helping get Aboriginal men out of jail for unpaid fines.
Mr Eades was inspired by the ‘Free The People’ campaign started by Sisters Inside and also had a discussion with the Perth community about the issue.
“There are lots of men going through our community with lots of unpaid fines and warrants and that, and going to prison,” he told NITV News.
“Some of that which is disturbing is a lot of people are being introduced to the prison life and going into mainstream prison with career criminals, and they’re going in there for the first time for cutting fines out.”
Less than 24 hours after starting the campaign, Mr Eades has released two Aboriginal men, both fathers and who both had no prior criminal record.
Mr Eades said not having fathers in the household can put a strain on the whole family, especially the children.
“They [the dads] go to prison, the children, everything becomes abnormal without the dad there. Locking people up because they are poor, there’s no need for it, no need for it anymore and hopefully, the attorney-general has a look and [will] try and overturn the warrants for arrests for fines, and cutting out fines,” he said.
The National Coordinator of the National Trauma Recover Project, Gerry Georgatos has also thrown this support behind the ‘Free Our Fathers’ campaign.
“In Western Australia people can be incarcerated for the inability to afford fines, so if they fall behind or they breached an agreed payment plan, they can be incarcerated,” he told NITV.
“The laws need to understand that fines have to be affordable for everyone…We have thousands of warrants out there but [people] can’t afford to pay their fines.”
Western Australia is the only state where you can be incarcerated for the failure of not paying your court-order fine. This may include offences such as drink driving, driving without a licence or failure to appear in court.
People facing a warrant for their arrest over their unpaid fines have the options to pay their outstanding fines or fine in full or are detained at the rate of $250 per day until their highest fine is paid off.
Just like the campaign by Sisters Inside, the ‘Free Our Fathers’ campaign organisers find who is locked up and how many people are locked up for fine defaults. Mr Georgatos says there are currently eight men locked up for unpaid fines.
“We’re finding out straight from the prisons… they don’t want them in there, they want people incarcerated for crimes, they’re not considered in their minds as people who are offending,” he said.
“They see this as a civil matter, they’re supportive of the campaign, and they’re availing us to anyone who has been incarcerated for unpaid fines alone.”
However, there are cases of people being locked up at police stations, like that of Rubin Yorkshire and Ms Dhu. The only way organisers know of their incarceration is when distressed family members notify them.
In 2016, the West Australian Independent Inspector of Custodial Services wrote a report about the fine defaulters within the state’s prison system.
The inspector stated it was ‘financially costly, socially undesirable, and risky and disruptive for prisons’ to have short term fine defaulters in prisons.
Once all imprisoned fine defaulters are released, organisers will then move onto helping pay off fines for those with impending warrants.
“All fines accumulate, they accumulate, and accumulate, and accumulate. They accumulate to the hundreds or thousands over a long time,” Mr Eades said.
“Expecting the poor to pay money out of little they get it’s asking them to be poorer than what they really are and we’re talking about some of the poorest of the poor people within our community.”
The West Australian Attorney General is believed to implement changes to the fine default law by the middle of the year, two months before the five year anniversary for Ms Dhu's death.
To donate to the 'Free Our Fathers' Campaign, click here.