OPINION: Court ordered fines are not deterring offenders
AFTER sitting in court rooms across the South Burnett over the past year, it has become apparent that in most instances the justice system isn’t working and is adding to the millions of dollars of SPER debt across the region.
People with no form of employment or very little income are being sentenced in the way of significant fines, they simply can’t pay, which are being referred to SPER.
As of June 30, data showed 3,064 South Burnett residents owed $8,750,000 to SPER, which is just a small slice of the $1.3 billion owed to the government across Queensland.
When someone doesn’t pay their fine on time, SPER can issue an enforcement action, which can be the suspension of a licence, vehicle immobilisation, or the seizing and selling of property to pay for it.
Someone who was unable to pay their SPER fine, gets caught by police driving while their licence is suspended because they didn’t pay their fine, gets issued with a notice to appear and lands back in court.
You wouldn’t guess what happens to them in court for driving on a suspended licence, another SPER fine they can’t pay and the cycle continues.
For example, a man was fined just over $6000 and at the time he was unemployed and had $300 in his bank account.
It’s highly unlikely he will be able to pay that anytime soon.
In a lot of cases people turn to drugs to deal with the pressure of building fines and again end up back in court with drug charges before eventually ending up with suspended sentences and convictions.
Once you have a recorded conviction it becomes even harder to find work, making it very difficult for people to dig themselves out of the whole they are in.
An 18 year old teenager was in court for public nuisance and was ordered to enter into a 12 month probation order in attempt to help him combat his drug problem.
Clearly affected by drugs in the courtroom he was told he had to call the probation office by the end of the day, however he didn’t own a phone, lived alone and didn't know anyone who he could borrow a phone from.
If he didn’t call probation he would end up back in court, most likely get fined and with no job, not pay his fines.
Depending on your circumstances, you can apply to work off your SPER debt through an approved hardship partner.
Community service based sentences instead of fines could be beneficial, people could work on fruit farms for example as the Burnett region is currently facing a major shortage of fruit pickers.
If people don’t want to work, it however becomes a burden on an employer or the organisation.
It’s hard to know if focusing on community service would reduce the number of people in the court cycle, however court ordered fines are creating millions of dollars in debt and in most cases are not deterring people from offending or rehabilitating offenders.