Call for fines concessions

GIVING concession card holders discounts on fines could help reduce high incarceration rates for Aboriginal people in WA, says a North Perth law student.

Murdoch uni third-year student Caitlin Joensson recently had one of her assignments accepted into an official federal government inquiry into indigenous incarceration rates.

“Non-payment of fines may not be the offence for which we see the biggest issue in our justice system, however the high turnover of prisoners it accumulates largely effects prison dynamics and creates socially undesirable groups in both prisons and indigenous communities,” Ms Joensson wrote.

A 2016 report by the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services found that Aboriginal women were by far the biggest cohort facing cell time for fine defaulting.

Ms Joensson says this can be attributed to reduced financial capacity, itineracy and lower literacy levels.

• Caitlin Joensson argues that concessions on fines could help reduce the number of Aboriginal people being jailed for minor offences. Photo supplied

“Currently legislation does not consider the disproportionate impact that fines have on people who are disadvantaged financially or socially,” Ms Joensson says.

“The implementation of concession infringement notices would allow for those disadvantaged to receive more proportionate punishments while also implementing limits on who is able to claim this disadvantage.”

Ms Joensson also called for the scrapping of legislation that’s used to send fine defaulters to prison, and increasing use of community-based programs to discourage repeat offenders.

She says the high indigenous incarceration rates are a sign Australia is failing to uphold the rule of law, which calls for legal processes to be accessible to all. And that distrust of governments, living in remote communities and not being given the opportunities to learn about their rights and obligations mean indigenous people are not able to access the legal system effectively.

Ms Joensson says prior to making her submission, she’d been able to discuss the impacts of being imprisoned for fine defaulting with an indigenous community member.

“We discussed different options for change and this interview really affected the way I now approach this issue,” she said.

by STEVE GRANT

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