An Indigenous single mother has been locked up over thousands of dollars of unpaid fines after police were called to her house over a family violence incident.
The case has echoes of the circumstances which led the imprisonment of Mrs Dhu – the 22-year-old Aboriginal woman whose death in custody sparking a damning report from the state coroner.
In his report 10 months ago, the coroner recommended the law be changed to scrap jail terms for the non-payment of fines.
It is understood the woman, 35, was arrested for fines totalling $3,900 after a standard-practice background check was carried out when police were called to her Joondalup residence this week.
The mother of the woman — who wants to remain anonymous — said she had called police because her daughter wanted to speak to officers about “certain things”.
“They took her to Joondalup police station … from there they transferred her to Melaleuca women’s prison,” she said.
The woman was sentenced to two weeks in jail but was worried for her young children, her mother said.
in a statement, WA Police said officers had no discretion when carrying out court orders.
“They are lawful orders to WA Police officers to take into custody the person named on the warrant and there is not capacity for those officers to ignore or defer that order,” the statement said.
Police also said officers had ensured the woman and her family were treated reasonably and had “considered the welfare of all persons”.
“In this particular matter, a review has been conducted and WA Police is satisfied that both the woman and her family were afforded all reasonable care,” a spokesman said.
“The officers who handled this matter conducted themselves in accordance with policy and met the standards required when dealing with these difficult situations.”
It is understood the First Nations Homeless Project is currently supporting the woman and her family, with more than $800 raised to help.
A 2016 report found Aboriginal women were the most likely of any group to be imprisoned for fines.
In a statement, WA’s Attorney-General John Quigley said the State Government was working to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in jail, with the figures amongst the highest in the country.
“Western Australia’s Indigenous incarceration rates are scandalous … the McGowan Labor Government does not shy away from this problem,” he said.
Mr Quigley said the Government was working on introducing a custody notification system after it was one of the recommendations to come out of the Ms Dhu inquest.
He also said he would be introducing amendments to the law to ensure people were not imprisoned for unpaid fines.
“I have examined the approach taken in other jurisdictions in relation to jailing for fines and I will be in a position to bring forward a reform package to Cabinet before the end of the year,” he said.
A statutory review of the sentencing act proposed alternative options for people found convicted of lower level offences, including the introduction of enhanced conditional release orders allowing for community work.