Fine defaulters face more jail

EXCLUSIVE Daniel Emerson
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Fine defaulters face more jail

Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis wants to raid the welfare payments of fine defaulters and extend their time in prison in a bid to make it less attractive to go to jail to clear debts.

He believes too many people are taking the "soft option" of a short stint in a minimum- security jail instead of paying fines or doing community service.

In an exclusive interview with _The West Australian _ yesterday, Mr Francis said a policy change in the dying days of the former Labor government in 2008 allowed fine defaulters to serve multiple terms concurrently rather than cumulatively.

The move, designed to reduce the impact of fine defaulting on the prison system, had the unintended effect of making it a more "lucrative and encouraging" way to clear fines, he said.

In 2007-2008, 442 fine defaulters went to jail for an average 39.5 days. By 2013-14, the number of defaulters going to jail had almost trebled to 1127. They served an average of just 4.3 days.

"So what we've seen in the last two years is the realisation among those in society who don't want to have to pay or do anything for their failings, that instead of doing 30 days community service, you can do four days in jail," Mr Francis said.

"It's too easy to go to prison to get rid of a small fine.

"As far as policy changes in the next 12 months, the Government needs to address this."

Mr Francis said most fine defaulters in prison had been slugged court-imposed penalties for serious offences including domestic violence, dangerous driving and assault, rather than failure to pay low-level parking or traffic infringements.

He said WA had already started talks with the Federal Government about accessing Centrelink payments to retrieve fines.

"One of the other options we need to explore is to look at having the authority to garnish wages from welfare from the Commonwealth and that may be one way of trying to get money off people," Mr Francis said.

"Just because you are on welfare and you can't afford to pay a fine doesn't mean you should be exempt from the ramifications of the justice system.

"Otherwise we are going to have lots of people on the dole running around breaking the law, not giving a damn about driving tickets, parking tickets, drink-driving, speeding, you name it, because there'd be no consequences."