Following the 2014 death of Australian Aboriginal woman Julieka Ivanna Dhu, who died in police custody after being jailed for unpaid fines, officials in Western Australia promised to push for less severe punishments for unpaid fines. But Dhu was just one Aboriginal woman out of many who are frequently jailed for unpaid fines, a population that’s considerably more likely to be arrested and unable to pay rising costs.
The New York Times reports on the trend, citing that between the years of 2006 and 2015, 803 people in Western Australia were imprisoned for unpaid fines, which are usually for minor things like traffic violations or littering. But the fact that 44 percent of that 803 number were arrests of Aboriginal people, despite making up only 3 percent of the entire state’s population, rings alarm bells over discriminatory arrest practices.
Now women in Western Australia might be afraid to call the police even when they’re in danger because of the risks that come with their unpaid fine dues. One woman, Grace Cockie, tells the NYT that she attempted to call the police over a boyfriend trying to break into her home, but was told by police that if they came they’d arrest her, not him. The setbacks that come with an arrest (losing children to state custody if without childcare, losing your license which can effect your ability to get a job) all contribute to a domino-effect of increasing those fine payments.
In January a fundraiser started by the Queensland organization Sisters Inside raised over $230,000 in a week to help pay the fines for Aboriginal women imprisoned. A spokesperson for John Quigley, the state’s attorney general, told the Guardian in January that he “hopes to be in a position to introduce new laws to reform fines enforcement in the first half of 2019.”