What’s the problem?
Many children and young people incur and accumulate fines. These fines act to entrench their disadvantage and increase their interactions with the court system.
Unfortunately many children and young people have been issued with a fine, rather than receiving a warning from issuing officers in the first instance. Warnings are often more appropriate than issuing fines – particularly for first-time offenders. A warning can de-escalate a situation to allow a young person to consider their conduct and understand their obligations, rather than escalating a situation by giving a fine which often results in the issuing of multiple fines if the young person becomes confused, agitated or angry at how they are being treated.
Many of these young people are experiencing chronic instability which includes daily financial crisis. Many are on low or no income and the cost of accommodation, food and other necessities impacts on their ability to purchase public transport tickets even at half fare concession price. Many risk travelling without a ticket and over time get many fines.
Young people pay the same amount for on-the-spot fines that adults do (except for public transport if you are under 18 years) despite the fact they often do not have an income or earn much less than an adult.
Not only are fines expensive, not paying fines can have serious consequences including spiralling debt and a record. A criminal record can have a big impact on applying for jobs and being able to travel. Parents often pay fines, however young people without this support face court and a record and possibly even jail.
Adult fines system
Victoria has developed a “special circumstances” system for adults to try to alleviate the pressure of infringements for certain vulnerable groups. Special circumstances include where a person is homeless, has a mental or intellectual disability or a serious addiction to drugs or alcohol, where that condition results in the person being unable to control their conduct, or understand that their conduct is an offence. The special circumstances process is slow, complicated, places a lot of burden on the vulnerable people it is trying to help and does not deal with all of a person’s outstanding fines.
- Too many young people get caught up in it when they have a valid reason not to be fined.
- Vulnerable young people need to be treated differently – not given fines and not put through this bureaucratic nightmare.
- Fines left unattended can result in mounting debt, worry, intervention by authorities, a criminal record and even imprisonment.
Under 18 (Children and Young Persons Infringement Notice System (CAYPINS) system)
Victoria has the Children and Young Persons Infringement Notice System (CAYPINS) for children under 18 years of age, however this system seems to treat young people less favorably than if they were in the adult system. There is no central agency managing unpaid fines in the children’s system and no special consideration for young people with special circumstances. Young people who have their fines dealt with by the CAYPINS system typically receive a fine, even if they have special circumstances. This means that children are being punished more severely than adults for the same offence. Challenging fines in the Children’s Court results in a police criminal record which has other lasting consequences for young people, especially in seeking employment.
- The fines system for under 18s is a waste of resources, resulting in little recovery. It is unfair and unwieldy and in our view needs to be abolished.
- Fines are way too expensive for most young people.
- Some young people don’t have enough money for public transport to get to school.
- Vulnerable young people get fines because of their situation (e.g., being homeless, unwell, struggling to survive) and can’t pay.
- Concession requirements for students are a burden.
- Fines draw young people into the court and criminal justice systems.
What action do we want?
We want the under 18 fines system (CAYPINS) abolished OR reformed to prevent children from contact with the court or criminal justice system.
In regard to adult fines we want a system that is:
- simple and accessible
- problem solving
- consistent and transparent
- equitable, proportionate and just.
It must include reasonable and affordable fines for vulnerable young people and discounted fines that reflect financial capacity to pay. It requires early identification and exit for young people with special circumstances and/or without capacity to pay.
On 1 January 2017, the Victorian Government introduced a new approach to fare compliance. See its Report to the Review of the Public Transport Ticketing Compliance and Enforcement (DEDJTR 2016) which was in part a response to an investigation by the Victorian Ombudsman into the fare evasion scheme (see below). The Government has promised it will be simpler, fairer and more effective. It replaces the current confusing two tiered approach for fines and will end the on the spot penalty fares scheme. It will:
- target repeat and deliberate fare evaders rather than inadvertent offenders unlikely to reoffend
- use more systemic warnings in certain circumstances for passengers who inadvertently do not pay their fine
- provide better training and support for Authorised Officers and give them greater use of discretion
- improved infringement processing
- improve identification of vulnerable members of the community to keep them out of the court system.
For more info check out Youthlaw's fines campaign resources.