After noticing defendants fare evading and sleeping rough in order to get into the city for a court hearing, two UQ postgraduate students teamed up to do something about it.
Amelia Radke and Bryony Walters have now successfully completed a pilot program, Transport2Court, which provides vulnerable defendants with pre-loaded go cards to assist with the cost of transport to and from court appearances.
The aim of the program is to reduce the number of ‘failure to appear’ charges.
Ms Radke, a UQ Honours Anthropology graduate, was doing 17 months field work at the Murri (Indigenous) Court as part of her PhD examining culturally-appropriate bail programs when she first saw the potential of Transport2Court.
“I would often see people sleeping rough the night before their court appearance just to be able to get into the city,” Ms Radke said.
“Or they would be evading fares which could result in further criminal charges. Criminalisation of poverty is a cycle and people are vulnerable.”
She said she often saw elders and others giving money to defendants to enable them to get home.
Her observations were confirmed by Queensland Council of Social Services (QCOSS) research and she and Ms Walters received $5000 seed funding through QCOSS to trial the program from November last year until June 2016.
130 go cards were distributed under the scheme, most via the Brisbane Murri Court, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service and the Queensland Courts Referral program.
“I’m pleased to say many of these cards are having a long-term effect on the lives of the recipients,” Ms Radke said.
“We found the $10 deposit for a go card was a barrier for people in poverty.
“TransLink statistics show the 130 go cards led to more than 2400 journeys, which means the recipients are topping up the cards and re-using them.
“These cards have had positive effects on lives, they are being used to attend things like health appointments and supervised visits to children.
“It’s going to have a lot more long-term effect than we thought.”
Ms Walters, a community legal centre coordinator who is currently completing her Masters of Law, also observed first-hand the impact of poverty on people’s ability to travel and participate in the community.
“I’ve had to set up appointments around payday so my clients have the money to get public transport,” Ms Walters said.
Ms Radke and Ms Walters are in discussions with the Department of Transport and Main Roads about continuing the project and are also speaking with UQ about it becoming an on-going research project.
“Our aim is to continue and expand the project: embedding it systematically so everyone who is vulnerable has access to this support, including victims of crime,” she said.
“We want to ensure that paying for public transport isn’t a barrier to attending court for anyone.”
For further information: https://www.qcoss.org.au/emerging-voices-transport-2-court-project
Media: Danielle Koopman, firstname.lastname@example.org, 07 3346 0700.