The Law Society of Western Australia welcomes the State Government’s announcement of new legislation that aims to reduce the rate of incarceration of Aboriginal people.
The Law Society understands that the Sentencing Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 will allow offenders to undertake community work, rather than being subject to a fine under an enhanced Conditional Release Order regime.
Law Society President Elizabeth Needham said, “Imprisonment for fine default has contributed to the alarming level of over-representation of Aboriginal people in the WA prison system.
“A May 2016 report by the Office of the Inspector of Custodial services found that women, and particularly Aboriginal women, are disproportionately represented among fine defaulters.
“The Inspector found that Aboriginal women made up only 15 percent of the total prisoner population, but 22 percent of all fine defaulters in the prison population. Aboriginal women comprised 64 percent of female fine defaulters.
“In recent years we have witnessed the tragic case of Ms Dhu, who died in police custody two days after being arrested for fine default. Any measures that can divert low-level offenders away from imprisonment are welcome.”
The Law Society understands that the proposed legislation would allow courts the ability to impose a fine, but then immediately offer the offender attendance at a rehabilitation program or unpaid community work in lieu of paying the fine.
It seems likely that there will be a number of positive effects from the proposed regime, including:
- fewer fine defaulters, resulting in fewer low-level offenders incarcerated;
- a real reduction in the number of Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous women incarcerated;
- a reduction in cost to the public in paying for the time fine defaulters would otherwise be incarcerated; and
- the would-be fine defaulter and the wider community benefiting from the volunteer work.
“The judiciary must be allowed the discretion to apply sentences that are proportionate to the offences committed, taking into account the circumstances of the offender,” Elizabeth Needham said.
“Mandatory sentencing denies the judiciary this discretion and often results in draconian sentences. Legislation that provides the judiciary with more sentencing options should therefore be embraced.”
Access further information on the Law Society’s policy positions on ‘Closing the Gap’, Imprisonment of Fine Defaulters, Mandatory Sentencing and more.
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