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The Western Australian (WA) government plans to revise its current law that entails imprisonment of people with unpaid fines.
At the moment, WA is the only state in the country that imprisons people for not paying fines after committing offenses that are often considered petty. In the reformed law, only a magistrate, or an official who handles minor crimes, will be authorized to order prison time for people who are unable to pay fines. Currently, an official from the Fines Enforcement Registry has the authority to issue a warrant for the imprisonment of a person with unpaid fines.
Data from previous research showed that since 2010, over a thousand people in the state have ended up in prison each year for their inability to pay fines.
A 2016 report claimed that people experiencing severe poverty are likely to receive jail sentences because of unpaid fines. These people mostly consist of native Australians called Aborigines, the unemployed, single mothers, and vulnerable groups such as the homeless.
Therefore, the proposed change in the law, which will take effect in July, aims to prevent imprisonment of underprivileged people caused by the lack of means to pay fines. In addition, the changes will allow these people to pay their fines over a period of time or find alternative ways to pay them off.
The government promised the reforms in the law following a campaign by Sisters Inside, a group that supports the human rights of women in prison. This group initiated the #FreeThePeople GoFundMe campaign in January this year to raise money to shoulder the fines of Aboriginal women who are serving time. The campaign has received donations from over 7,000 people and has raised nearly $300,000 to free people from prison and pay issued warrants. The group is targeting 10,000 donors to take part in the campaign.