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Broken system

Grassroots campaign raises more than $100,000 in 2 days to release Indigenous women imprisoned for unpaid fines

By WITW Staff on January 9, 2019

In Western Australia, a community-backed fundraiser has rapidly raised more than $100,000 to help free more than a hundred Indigenous women imprisoned by authorities for being unable to pay overdue fines.

Debbie Kilroy, the chief executive of Queensland-based advocacy group Sisters Inside, said she had been shocked by the response after they started a GoFundMe on Sunday afternoon with the goal of freeing 100 indigenous women who have been held in prison until they “pay off” their fines. By Tuesday evening, the group raised more than $120,000 and was able to begin the process of working to free the women.

Three women — including a young pregnant mother arrested over traffic fines and a woman who was threatened with arrest over her unpaid fines after she called police for a domestic issue — have already been released as a result of the group’s efforts, according to Kilroy. The three women owed $6,600 collectively.

“I just can’t believe how it’s gone,” she told AAP, adding that the success of the fundraiser has given her hope that they can free many more women than just the 100 initially targeted.

Renewed attention to Western Australia’s practice of jailing people for fines was sparked in 2014 following the death of a 22-year-old Aboriginal women who died in a hospital after being held in prolonged custody over unpaid fines. While the practice has long been criticized as both inhumane and economically impractical, promises to reform the system — which disproportionately targets Indigenous women for arrest, according to a 2017 report from the Human Rights Law Center — have thus far gone unrealized by the Western Australian government.

In a statement, a spokesman for Western Australia Attorney-General John Quigley said that they would introduce reforms to the unpaid fine law by July 2019, and that they understood “keeping fine defaulters in custody to ‘cut out’ their unpaid fines is not the most effective way to enforce fines payments and is economically unsound.”

According to Kilroy, who has accused the government of unnecessarily delaying the legislative changes, an estimated 250 more people will be incarcerated over unpaid fines between now and July.

Read the full story at SBS News.

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