Single Mum Spared Prison After Crowdfunding Campaign Pays $3100 Fines
Over $20,000 has been raised in 24 hours to help secure the release of single Aboriginal mums sitting in prison over unpaid fines.
The crowdfunding campaign has helped a single mother of three children, facing imprisonment over $3100 in unpaid fines, escape the prospect of going to jail.
The Noongar woman in Western Australia was looking at prison time over the accumulated debt from traffic infringements and having an unregistered dog.
WA imprisons people -- sometimes for very short stays -- over unpaid fines, under what advocates say are "draconian" laws which unfairly and disproportionately affect Aboriginal women and people living in poverty.
The woman's $3100 fine was paid on Monday, thanks to a crowdfunding campaign to free or prevent the incarceration of as many people -- particularly single Aboriginal mothers -- as possible.
Gerry Georgatos, an activist and national coordinator for the National Child Sexual Abuse Trauma Recovery Project, confirmed to 10 daily the woman's fine had been paid, as well as another single mother facing imprisonment over $2000 in unpaid traffic fines.
"Some of these fines are not affordable from the beginning," Georgatos said.
"$500 for a traffic infringement for somebody who's living on a single parent pension, or disability pension, or a Newstart payment -- it's more than their weekly income. And if they've got kids, then what do they do? Food on the table or pay the fine?"
The money was raised by advocacy group Sisters Inside, which is aiming to raise as much as $99,000 to help up to 100 single mothers.
More than $20,000 has been raised in less than 24 hours, after the campaign was launched over the weekend.
Sisters Inside founder Debbie Kilroy told 10 daily she launched the campaign following the news that Perth actor and Yirri Yaakin dancer Ruben Yorkshire was arrested last week over $1,700 worth of unpaid fines.
"He had no criminal history," Kilroy said.
"He didn't even know he had a fine until the warrant when he was arrested."
Yorkshire spent six days in prison until he was released on Sunday, Georgatos said, sharing a cell with a man imprisoned for murder.
"He was quite shaken up by what he saw in prison," Georgatos said.
"It's a place of human misery."
About eight to 10 people are incarcerated over unpaid fines in WA each day, Georgatos claimed, about half of whom are First Nations people.
That number exploded in 2009, when the number of people incarcerated over unpaid fines jumped from 396 to 1018 due to a number of legislative and policy changes, according to a paper tabled in 2016.
The laws allowing mostly impoverished people to 'pay off' their fines at a rate of $250 per day have come under scrutiny following the death of Aboriginal woman Ms Dhu in custody in 2014.
Ms Dhu, 22, was arrested over unpaid fines of $3,622, which had accrued from issues around homelessness and poverty. She died two days later.
A 2017 discussion paper by the Australian Law Reform Commission said that states and territories should abolish laws that imprison people over unpaid fines, a move WA state attorney-general John Quigley is looking to follow through with in the first half of this year.
The legislation will "including significantly restricting the circumstances in which a warrant of commitment (WOC) can be issued", a spokesperson told 10 daily.
Quigley is also "considering the need to clear outstanding unserved WOCs".
But parliament doesn't resume for another five weeks, by which time Georgatos said another 250 people will likely be incarcerated.
It's why the fundraiser to clear outstanding fines is so important, he said.
"We should be doing everything we can to keep people out of prison."
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