When I read the final report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody as an 18 year old over a decade after it was signed, despite all that I was taught by my elders growing up, I never imagined that we would still be discussing laws so overtly racist in their intent and application today.
The Fines, Penalties and Infringement Notices Enforcement Act 1994 (WA), is the only law that is used regularly to imprison for non-payment of fines. This law has a discriminatory and disproportionate effect, leading to the over-representation of Indigenous people particularly women, poor people and vulnerable people, in the Western Australian prison system.
Although there is a clear inference that these people are criminals, they are not. They may have received traffic fines, parking fines and the like but simply been unable to pay them as they are living in poverty – a condition that is a direct result of colonisation.
Indigenous women, particularly single mothers, are disproportionately impacted by this cruel law which is weaponised against black women who become fearful of asking for help for fear of incarceration.
This country was predicated upon a lie and the economy that establishes a clear system in which there are those with wealth and those without is a direct proceed of crime – theft. This country was not built by European ingenuity as they would have us believe, it was established through theft and brutalisation of Indigenous people and built upon the backs of the enslavement of Indigenous people.
Where non-Indigenous people have had the opportunity to earn money, establish wealth (no matter how large or small) in which to pass on to their children, this was not a possibility for the Indigenous population and the current entrenched poverty is a direct result of the oppressive practices and policies of those who benefit from the continuation of the status quo.
We have seen what happens to black people in custody, even those who are not ‘criminals’ but victims of poverty, but locked up because life is not worth as much as money to a government who has proven time and time again where they stand on the issue of human rights.
We have had an entire royal commission that set out recommendations avoiding custodial outcomes, we have seen a black woman die in custody (placed there because she had unpaid fines) in the most inhumane circumstances because she was treated abhorrently by the prison and hospital staff who came in contact with her.
We know that when black people are placed in custody, we come into contact with people who treat us as less than human and when that happens – it becomes life and death.
Despite many calls for law reform – Western Australia remains resolute in their intention to keep locking up people who are unable to pay their fines.
So what do you do when the system is determined to continue destroying people?
Use the people. Call to their empathy and explain what is really happening.
This #FreeThePeople movement subverts the cruel system and calls upon people to contribute and free 100 Indigenous women unfairly incarcerated.
Debbie Kilroy OAM and CEO of Sisters Inside is circumventing the system by appealing to Australian people to listen, understand and throw in the cost of two coffees to a ground-breaking fundraiser that will see the fines paid of vulnerable people being locked up or threatened with this reality despite their inability to pay.
This fundraiser is through Go Fund Me and you can access the link here.
The goal is for $99,000 initially and so far just over half has been raised and has assisted:
- Noongar woman who has been told by police that she will be arrested if they are called out for a domestic violence complaint because she has outstanding fines. A woman has to choose between her own safety and being locked up.
- A single mum of 3 facing imprisonment over her inability to pay $3,100 in fines from traffic infringements and having an unregistered dog.
- A young pregnant 22 year old Mum of a 3 year old with $2,000 in fines for traffic offences that she cannot afford to pay as a single mother expecting another child.
The work continues as the goal is to free 100 Aboriginal women who are languishing in prison for unpaid fines while their children are dealing with uncertainty and more often than not, being placed into the system.
Please share this with everyone you know and demonstrate that for the cost of a coffee or two, people’s lives will be changed and saved from prison for such abhorrent and greedy reasons. Lives are worth more than they are being treated in Western Australia and we have the power to not only show these women that they matter, we care and are willing to effect change to protect them, but we show a government that people power is going to change the world and their tenuous grip on power is coming to an end.
Change is in the air – #freethepeople
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