A sneering indifference to the poor is no way to run prisons and the fines system, CLA says. Ministers should represent all people, not just the upper class.
Muddle headed Corrections Minister blind to reality
WA’s Corrections Minister Joe Francis is hopelessly confused on the issue of fines defaulters being sent to prison, says Civil Liberties Australia. “First, his statement today that people were choosing to serve a prison term as a ‘soft option’ shows a complete lack of understanding as to how most non-violent, non-repeat offenders experience jail – as a traumatic, dehumanising and terrifying experience,” said CLA State Director Rex Widerstrom.
“Second, he seems to think that everyone in receipt of the unemployment benefit is dying to start, as he puts it, ‘running around breaking the law, not giving a damn about driving tickets, parking tickets, drink-driving, speeding, you name it’, and the only thing stopping them is fear of the penalties that apply. That sort of prejudice has no place at State Cabinet level.
“Third, his desire to deepen the problems of welfare recipients by sending them to jail for lengthy periods simply because they’re unable to afford the fines the rest of us are forced to pay reveals a complete lack of understanding of, and empathy with, those living in poverty. A stint in jail will see their welfare benefits stopped. What happens then to their families, who are relying on two benefits to pay rent and to eat? What happens to any repayment on actual debt – not made-up debts to the Barnett government for the infraction of some rule or other? Are businesses supposed to wait for their money while the government removes the one income that the beneficiary could use to repay them?”
CLA suggests the Minister talk with brothers Brendan, Conrad and Matthew after they finish the annual Street Smugglers “Week on the Street” about their experiences. “Today they’ve posted a photo of dozens of people lining up for food in Weld Square. Does the Minister think begging for food is a ‘soft option’ too?” Mr Widerstrom asked. “Anyone who ends up in prison because they can’t afford a fine is out of options in their life. A $60 parking fine for a beneficiary is a week’s groceries, while for an executive or FIFO miner – or a Cabinet Minister – it’s two pub lunches.
“While no one should entirely escape a penalty if they’ve committed an offence, the Minister should be consulting the community about Restorative Justice options, not proposing to stuff our already overcrowded and understaffed jails full of more non-violent offenders.”