As the WA government tries to pass reforms that would slow the number of people jailed for unpaid fines, two Aboriginal brothers who both were locked up under the laws say they are still impacted by their incarceration.
Brothers, Anthony* and Joe* both spent time at Hakea Prison, 28 kilometres south of Perth, for the failure of paying off their fines, which were incurred for driving offences.
The prison facility is also one of the main facilities where men are sent while on remand and are waiting for their sentencing.
Hakea Prison has been making news in Western Australia following the brutal bashing of Aboriginal man, Alf Eades. Eight men have been charged with Mr Eades’ murder.
In February, Anthony said WA police performed a random ID check on him while he was in the city Anthony was surrounded by a number of officers and arrested on the spot.
“I didn’t know about it, that you could get locked up for unpaid fines,” the young brother told NITV News.
“I don’t see the justice in that, really, they didn’t give me the chance it was kind of like ‘you’re gone’," he said.
Anthony was transported to the city watch house and then moved to Hakea Prison. At the time he was the sole caretaker of his young daughter.
“I’ve barely spent a night without sleeping next to my daughter and the amount of thoughts that go through your head are unreal," Anthony said.
“I was completely in shock, I had never been in jail before,” he said.
Anthony’s older brother Joe had also been sent to jail years before to pay off his fines. He spent four days behind bars.
“That was pretty harsh, it was my first time, no one explains to you what’s happening,” Joe said.
“It’s kind of like you’re a robot, it’s like ‘go here, go there, tuck your shirt in'," he said.
The older brother said that he doesn’t understand the concept of going to prison for a non-violent crime.
“I understand the saying, ‘ you do the crime you do the time’ but that’s on certain crimes... [but] in this day and era, the system should be changed," he said.
Last week, the West Australian Attorney General John Quigley introduced the fine default reforms package, the proposed legislation will severely limit the circumstances in which a fine defaulter can be imprisoned.
Anthony said that he was happy and relieved to see the news.
“I hope eventually no one has to go through what I did, especially if you hadn’t been in prison before, it's pretty daunting and scary,” he said.
Anthony’s total fine amount was $1000, therefore he was required to spend four days in jail to pay it off at the rate of $250 per day.
However, through the help of the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project’s Gerry Georgatos and Megan Krakouer, Anthony was released from jail halfway through his four-day ‘pay off’ period.
Mr Georgatos told NITV News he has witnessed evictions, breakdown of relationships and suicides because of the unaffordability of fines, he wants to see income assessed fines.
“Fines must be an equal hit, deterrent to everyone, and affordable by everyone,” he said.
"If we do not do this, the poorest families will continue to be hit with socioeconomic stressors which erode other dynamics and culminate to horrifying circumstances.”
At the beginning of this year, activist Debbie Kilroy kick-started a campaign to help free incarcerated Indigenous women or pay off their fines, in February a men’s focused campaign was kick-started by the former chair of the First Nation’s Death in Custody Committee, Mervyn Eades.
Mr Eades also owns the local business Ngalla Maya, which helps recently released inmates find employment.
In the first 24 hours, the campaign helped free two Aboriginal fathers. Mr Eades told NITV that 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,” Mr Eades’ said at the time.
“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 fine default reforms package has been introduced to parliament and will need to pass both houses before the amendments are legislated.
** The names of the men have been changed for their privacy**