An Aboriginal woman – left with a broken rib sustained in a violent robbery over the weekend - feared she would die in custody when WA police jailed her for unpaid fines.
Keennan Courtney Dickey, 34, was only released from jail through the #FreethePeople crowdfunding campaign run by Sisters Inside’s Debbie Kilroy, who were able to pay her fines. Her treatment has led to further pressure for the WA government to change the laws that disproportionately target Aboriginal women.
Ms Dickey had been hospitalised on Saturday night with a broken rib after she was robbed by two men who stole her money and phone in Perth.
After the attack, Ms Dickie sought refuge at McDonald's in the Perth suburb of Innaloo, where workers called the police and an ambulance for help. She was then taken to the hospital and was told she had a broken rib.
While at the hospital, police from the Scarborough station had notified Ms Dickie that she had outstanding fines, which they advised her to deal with in coming days. But when she went to a different station – Mirrarbooka – the next morning to give a statement, she was instead arrested.
“I thought the officer was coming out to take my statement but instead he arrested me for the fines,” Ms Dickie told NITV News.
“I was terrified, I had never been arrested or gone to jail before.”
An injured Ms Dickie was placed in the back of a paddy wagon, where she was transported 35 kilometres south to Melaleuca Remand and Reintegration Facility in Canning Vale.
“I had never been so scared in my entire life,” she said.
“I was in so much pain because I had never been hit by anyone before. My ribs were hurting. I was so scared, and I couldn’t help but think of the case with Ms Dhu because they were so similar.”
The death in custody of Yamatji woman Ms Dhu, who died in police custody after being picked up for unpaid fines in 2014, had brought national attention to the issue. Ms Dhu died in agony after her pain, which stemmed from an infection from a broken rib, was repeatedly ignored by police and health workers.
In Western Australia under the Fines, Penalties and Infringement Notices Enforcement Act 1994 (WA), if a person defaults on a payment arrangement, an arrest warrant is issued and they are detained at a rate of $250 per day until the fine is 'paid off'.
Ms Dickie had $750 of unpaid traffic fines ranging from unpaid speeding tickets to fines from transport officers for failure to show her health care card. She had asked to pay off her fines through community service but was told only court-issued fines are eligible for community service.
Lawyer Debbie Kilroy told NITV News the Melaleuca facility had rung her on Sunday afternoon to help assist a woman with unpaid fines.
The Sisters Inside CEO said she is ‘horrified’ that the West Australian government still had not changed their laws.
“The time has come to change the laws for Aboriginal women, Aboriginal men, for Aboriginal people and other West Australians so they don’t be incarcerated because of poverty,” Ms Kilroy said.
“Aboriginal women are fearful to go to the police for assistance, so they’re actually being violated, so when will this be taken seriously?”
The most recent figures show their Free the People campaign has raised over $440'000 and helped free 20 women from prison. They have paid off fines for an additional 117 people.
On Monday, state Attorney General, John Quigley told ABC Perth radio he'll be introducing legislation "within weeks".
"What we want to introduce is legislations similar to Queensland and New South Wales, where the enforcement of fines by imprisonment does not exist," Mr Quigley said.
"There will be working development orders, where community groups will register with the Department of Justice as supervising groups and people coming in for community work will be registered and audited," he said.
Mr Quigley said there will also be the option to take payments from people's incomes, bank accounts or welfare payments.
Ms Dickie said there is no excuse for the delays to introducing the amended fine default laws.
“I’m completely biased but I don’t think it's acceptable at all, I’d be interested in their reasoning behind delaying it for as long as they have, especially when you think about the deaths that have occurred in custody while people have been held for fines because its just money that’s outstanding.”
NITV News has reached out to the Attorney General and was told an introduce for the fines is 'imminent'.