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Discrepancies Between Fines - In Prison vs Out of Prison

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Inmates at Yatala jail are being fined as little as $50 for being caught with drugs

It’s been revealed inmates at Yatala Jail are being fined as little as $50 for being caught with illegal drugs; the fines are set by a visiting tribunal which tours prisons.

Independent MP John Darley uncovered the information under a Freedom of Information application and he’s told Leon Byner prisoners are being slugged a lot less than people not in jail:

John Darley, Independent MLC (5AA 10.08-10.15) Discrepancies between the fines which offenders pay in prison versus out of prison

(Byner: My next guest did an FOI on what happens in prison when someone is detained at the Government’s pleasure uses drugs. Now you might expect that if you’re already in prison and you might even be there on drug offences that the tariff for using drugs or having drugs in prison would be high. But you would be wrong because it looks as if sentenced criminals at Yatala are being penalised as little as fifty dollars for being caught up with illegal drugs. Now the only reason you know this is because of an FOI by Independent John Darley which reveal the penalties imposed by a visiting tribunal which tours prisons to pass judgement on bad behaviour Alright? Internal Correctional Department documents, smallest fine was thirty dollars and in some cases mere reprimand. Let’s talk with the bloke that did the FOI … why did you do the FOI? Did you smell something not quite right.) Well it was basically by accident because we were looking at the comparison between fines imposed in South Australia as opposed to the other states, and as we all know, the fines here are much, significantly higher, than interstate. And then because in the last week of Parliament we were dealing with a bill that we were trying to get amendments up for mandatory rehabilitation of prisoners affected by drugs ,that we started looking at the situation there and fond that the fines, as you’ve mentioned, are significantly lower for prisoners in prisons than they are for people outside. Now if you take the comparison: a pensioner who drives through a red light camera – and the fine is around about $400, there’s no concession for them – and so we thought well why should there be a concession for these people who, for some period of time, are in prison? (Byner: Yeh, stay on the line will you? I want to talk to the Victims of Crime Commissioner Michael O’Connell.)

Michael O’Connell, Victims of Crime Commissioner (5AA 10.10-10.12) Discrepancies between the fines which offenders pay in prison versus out of prison

(Byner: Michael thanks for joining us today: do you find this a little strange?) Well I find it strange for two reasons: one of those is that I don’t see any reason why people who are in prison who commit like offences to people out in the community should be treated any differently; I think that creates an in equity in our system and I’m sure there would be other people who would see it that way. Secondly is that in my view if a prisoner has been [unclear] while in prison then … I emphasise that this is a possibility, then they ought to have some consequence or to be called to account and to either pay that fine as they do some community service or they do some other form of punishment, the same as you and I would have to do if we were given a fine out in the community and refuse to pay it. (Byner: Michael can you explain to the people listening today how this can happen? Why it happens?) Well I’m assuming for two reasons: one is that for people who are in prison they don’t have the capacity to earn or to receive unemployment benefits or other forms of social security, if they do earn any sum of money it’s usually about $20 per week to cover expenses above and beyond the fundamentals of food and so on. And we already do tax a proportion of that; that is, we take a proportion of that if the offender has a debt such as a Victims of Crime levy or they owe victim compensation. So from a prisoner perspective I suppose there’s always an argument as to whether or not they have the capacity to pay the fine, but many, many people out in the community, especially in low socioeconomic areas don’t have the capacity to pay fines and they have to enter into payments schemes and other ways or face the prospect of losing their licence or having motor vehicles seized and sold. So … I just think we need to discuss this in the context of what is fair to all citizens. (Byner: So what would you suggest the Government do?) Well my suggestion has been to either look at … in the same way we would with a person out in the community, either the payment of the fine is made by way of an instalment, that the person has to do community service, or that the debt carries with the person when they’re released from prison and once they’ve got suitable employment they can start paying their debt off. I don’t see the difficulty with that and I would be surprised if there would be very many people who would see that that’s unreasonable.

Back to John Darley

(Byner: Michael O’Connell thank you, so John Darley we tried to get Chris Picton on the program today. You know what his media people told us? … talk to Corrections.) Oh yeh, talk to anyone else. (Byner: Yeh, but hang on.) Good luck. (Byner: Yeh you see but this is a pol-icy-ma-tter, Mr Picton sits around the table with Ministers, who discuss the scourge of drugs.) Yes, and we talk about equity and fairness in the state; this is a joke. (Byner: Yeh so what’s got to happen next?) Well I’ll have a talk to Chris Picton about it and … if I need to I’ll talk to the Premier about it. But this has to be a change. (Byner: Alright John Darley thank you … I get the ‘capacity to pay’ thing but isn’t it sad that on the face of it you commit an offence in jail, you get a much lesser penalty, than you’d get if you weren’t in jail. And again there’s absolutely no point in putting things on the statutes if they can be hotwired by other means. Simple as that. And this is the second time that if the - … as I said, I keep telling you this: when it is a matter of policy we will talk to a minister. We’ll give the Minister an opportunity to come on or give us a statement. We didn’t get either this morning, so we’ll keep a note of this because people want answers. If you’re in government, you’ve got the levers, you’ve got the controls, people expect you to have something to say. Not fob us off to a public servant. That won’t happen.)

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