Indigenous actor Rubeun Yorkshire criticises WA laws which left him in prison for unpaid fines
Indigenous actor and dancer Rubeun Yorkshire has spoken out against West Australian laws that caused him to be jailed for unpaid fines, slamming the practice as “ridiculous”.
- Rubeun Yorkshire ended up in prison after police stopped him at Scarborough Beach
- WA Police has rejected suggestions Mr Yorkshire was “racially profiled”
- The WA Government plans to change the laws to keep fine defaulters out of prison
Mr Yorkshire, 27, is a dancer with theatre company Yirra Yaakin and is appearing in the forthcoming ABC TV series The Heights.
He was at Perth’s Scarborough Beach last week with a friend and her child, intending to meet his father for the first time.
But the meeting never happened, as Mr Yorkshire was stopped by police who were responding to a report of a disturbance involving two adults and a child.
“There was no disturbance,” Mr Yorkshire said.
“There was no argument, it was a conversation.”
Police said as part of normal practice, the officers asked for the names of the three people.
“They … told me I had a warrant for [unpaid] fines … and they ended up locking me up,” Mr Yorkshire said.
He said he was previously on a payment plan for fines dating back to 2013 and was not aware there was still $1,700 outstanding.
“They could have called my phone or anything, or sent out a letter,” he said.
“I have no prior convictions or anything.”
Actor says police ‘look at the black people’
Mr Yorkshire spent several nights in a two-man cell at Hakea Prison before he was released on Sunday, when his fines were paid off by an anonymous donation.
Mr Yorkshire has accused WA Police of painting all Indigenous people with the same brush. (Facebook: Rubeun Yorkshire)
“It was pretty full-on,” he said of his time in jail.
“It’s not a nice place to be. It’s one of those things”
Mr Yorkshire said he was not surprised he was stopped by police.
“Being Indigenous, it’s one of those things you have to go through,” he said.
“They look at the black … people and obviously they just paint you with a brush, and that’s just how it is.”
In a statement, WA Police said it rejected suggestions Mr Yorkshire was “racially profiled”.
Fine defaulters to be kept out of jail: Government
Mr Yorkshire said the WA Government should urgently reform the state’s fine enforcement laws.
“I think it’s ridiculous, I think it shouldn’t really happen. It should really be a court matter,” he said.
In the wake of an inquest into the 2014 death in custody of Aboriginal woman Ms Dhu, WA coroner Ros Fogliani called for laws to be changed so people could no longer be imprisoned for unpaid fines.
Ms Dhu died on her third visit to Hedland Health Campus after being arrested for unpaid fines. (Supplied: Carol Roe)
The Government has committed to changing the laws to keep fine defaulters out of prison.
“The Attorney-General hopes to be in a position to introduce new laws to reform fines enforcement in the first half of 2019,” a spokesman said in a statement.
“The Attorney-General is [also] considering the need to clear outstanding unserved WOC [warrants of commitment] as part of the reform package.
“In the meantime, the registrar of the Fines Enforcement Registry — who is an independent court officer — continues to have the authority to issue WOC for unpaid fines as a measure of last resort in accordance with the current legislation.”
The Attorney-General’s Office also said it was providing avenues to support Mr Yorkshire.
Call for immediate law reform
Queensland-based advocacy group Sisters Inside has been lobbying for the laws to be changed, and has launched a campaign to fund the release of Aboriginal single mothers who have been imprisoned for unpaid fines.
The campaign has set a fundraising target of $99,000 to help release 100 women — it has so far raised more than $82,000.
“Aboriginal women should not be dying, and should not be languishing in prison because they’re impoverished,” Sisters Inside leader Debbie Kilroy told ABC’s AM.
She said the WA Government should implement its promise to change the law without delay.
“If they want legislation passed that suits their own interests, it’s passed overnight,” she said.