TWO Catholic agencies in Brisbane are planning a campaign against the high number of people who are in Queensland jails for failing to pay fines.
The campaign, “Fine defaulters don’t belong in jail”, is a Jubilee Year project of the Brisbane archdiocesan Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) and Catholic Prison Ministry .
“The release of prisoners and forgiveness of debt are two major themes in Pope John Paul’s call to celebrate the Year of Great Jubilee,” said CJPC executive officer, Josephite Sister Annette Arnold.
The commission and ministry are asking parishes and organisations to consider seriously how they can both promote and be involved in this campaign, which will be launched on National Jubilee Sunday, June 18.
Sr Annette said the Criminal Justice Commission’s March report, “Prison numbers in Queensland”, had alarming statistics on imprisoned fine defaulters, only 20 per cent of whom are employed. Thirty per cent of them are indigenous.
The average fine they have failed to pay is $428 and they are jailed for an average of 19 days. Their number increased by 60 per cent in 1998-99 alone so that during that year, on any given day, there were 150 people in jail for not paying fines (compared with two per day in NSW).
The cost of keeping each of them in jail is $116 a day or $10 million annually, compared with $4 average cost for a community based sentence.
There are also another 73,000 people in Queensland with outstanding warrants for their arrest for fine defaulting.
The CJPC and prison ministry fear their jailing would dangerously escalate the prison population and send costs soaring.
A resource kit has been prepared and sets out the campaign’s aims, based on persuading the State Government that people in jail for non-payment of fines should be released to serve community based sentences.
The Government is also to be asked that in future fine defaulters be given community based orders as a first option, as opposed to the option of a fine.