Locking up women who cannot pay their fines entrenches gender inequality

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Locking up women who cannot pay their fines entrenches gender inequality

Western Australia’s Independent Inspector of Custodial Services released a damning report in May showing that Western Australia’s policy of imprisoning people for unpaid fines disproportionately impacts vulnerable Aboriginal women. One in every three women who enter prison in Western Australia are there for unpaid fines. Between 2008 and 2013, the number of women locked up for fine default increased by close to 600 percent. 

According to Ruth Barson, the Human Rights Law Centre’s Senior Lawyer, the Inspector’s report is another reminder that Western Australia’s policy of locking people up for unpaid fines is unfair and out of date. She argues that locking up women who cannot pay their fines entrenches gender inequality and is particularly harmful because there are some people in the community – people living in poverty, children, people in family violence situations – who simply cannot pay their fines. The Western Australian Government, Barson argues, should look to other jurisdictions, such as NSW, and embrace a fairer and more flexible fines system.

NSW has flexible options for dealing with unpaid fines including work and development orders that target the reason a person received the fines in the first place. The NSW justice system differentiates between those who will not and those who cannot pay their fines. It is reported that no one has been imprisoned for unpaid fines in NSW since the late 1990s.

This information was sourced from a Human Rights Law Centre news article