Demand an end to incarceration for unpaid fines

The dire risk to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and men from being locked up for non-payment of fines must be stopped.

Ms Dhu had been locked up for unpaid fines for three days. She was treated inhumanely by police while in custody.

This tragic death was preventable.

The impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of being put behind bars unnecessarily is devastating and was recognised more than 25 years ago by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

The Royal Commission recommended ‘that Aboriginal people be imprisoned as a last resort and that Governments introduce an ongoing amnesty on the execution of long outstanding warrants for unpaid fines.’

Had the recommendations of the Royal Commission been implemented, Ms Dhu would still be alive today, and over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people wouldn’t be devastating communities. 

For example, of the 7462 prisoners received into correctional centres in Western Australia for fine default: 

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men represented 38% of the fine default male prison population; and 
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women made up 64% of the female fine defaulter prison population.
Following the tragic death of Ms Dhu, the WA coroner recommended that there be no imprisonment for unpaid fines and that the WA Government investigate a Custody Notification Service similar to that operating in NSW and Victoria.
These recommendations have not yet been implemented by the newly elected Western Australian government.

Sadly, the laws and practices that contributed to Ms Dhu’s death are reflected around Australia and contribute to more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and men being fined and locked up for minor offences.

Governments across Australia must act now to remove laws that disproportionately and unfairly criminalise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Take action now by writing to State and Territory Premiers/Chief Ministers and Attorneys General to tell them to stop locking up people for unpaid fines, and introduce a custody notification service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

We cannot let the tragedy of Ms Dhu be repeated. 

Send your message to help prevent more deaths in custody

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