The government is to introduce a new Courts and Criminal Matters Bill, much of which is sensible. Suspending a repeated speeding fine-dodger’s license seems an appropriate sanction.
But sending them to prison because they can’t afford to pay a fine seems madness. I find myself in agreement with this Herald editorial, seeing the ridiculous cost of building and maintaining ever more prisons as unsustainable. Minor offences like unpaid fines should not result in the taxpayer spending vast sums to lock the offender up.
[T]he country cannot simply increase the prison population endlessly. That entails an unsustainable cost in building and running prisons, whatever arrangements the Government may enter to leaven the expense. New Zealand already has the second-highest imprisonment rate in the developed world. Jailing a large number of people for relatively minor offences makes little sense.
The government already has the power to take money automatically from bank accounts and wages for fines. It can seize possessions like cars, boat and televisions. It can stop people leaving the country. It just needs to actually enforce these laws.
Currently the biggest unpaid fines are from companies and people who have fled overseas. This law does nothing to impose on them. The rich who thieve in the guise of companies cannot have that company’s driving license suspended, and there’s no provision to lock directors up. And there’s no chance of extraditing people for an offence as minor as unpaid fines.
So it looks like it’s just an excuse to lock poor people up – at ordinary kiwis’ expense.