Work Development Orders will now be available to work-off debt accrued through fines in order to keep them out of the prison system, Liberal Member for Penrith Stuart Ayres said today.
“There are a number of people living in Penrith who are struggling to make ends meet on a weekly basis and we don’t want to see them winding up in gaol simply because they cannot afford to pay their escalating fine debts.\” Mr Ayres said.
“These orders give the very disadvantaged a chance to clear their fines by engaging in unpaid work or educational programs. They also give others a strong incentive to engage in mental health treatment and build their job skills.”
NSW Attorney General Greg Smith said the program involves more than 220 organisations and health professionals, such as Mission Australia, Anglicare, the Matthew Talbot Hostel, Schizophrenia Fellowship and Youth Off The Streets.
The Attorney-General said the preliminary results of a two-year trial, which concludes on July 10, had convinced him the scheme should be extended and made permanent. It showed:
- At April 30, more than 700 people had been issued with WDOs and reduced $294,000 worth of their fine debt. A further $1,933,755 worth of fine debt is now under management through WDOs.
- More than 80 per cent of participants had no further fines or penalties referred for enforcement.
- At least 200 people with mental illnesses participated.
The trial was open to the homeless, people with a mental illness, people with an intellectual or cognitive impairment and people experiencing acute financial hardship. It will now be accessible to people with serious addictions to alcohol, illicit drugs and other volatile substances.
“Drug and alcohol abuse are often closely linked to criminal behaviour and helping people overcome their addictions will have major benefits to the community,” Mr Smith said.
The NSW Government will also establish support teams through Legal Aid NSW and the Aboriginal Legal Service in regional areas and give approved organisations and health practitioners responsibility for assessing eligibility for WDOs.