For the first time in years, James* will soon be drug free, crime free and fine free.
“I wasn’t living a very positive life before – drugs and crime were a massive part of that,” the 34-year-old said.
“Towards the end there it was pretty serious, which is why I decided to turn my life around… I’ve pulled myself out of a hole that I never thought I would have.”
James has taken part in the Work and Development Order justice scheme.
The Revenue NSW scheme was introduced in July 2011.
It allows eligible people who have a mental illness, intellectual disability or cognitive impairment, are homeless, experiencing acute economic hardship, or have a serious addiction to drugs or alcohol to satisfy some of their fine debt through unpaid work with an approved organisation, or by undertaking certain courses or treatment.
As of November 2018, in the Illawarra/South Coast a total of $11,577,454 worth of fines have been waived.
Kiama resident James undertook a WDO via drug and alcohol rehabilitation courses with recovery and education centre Watershed.
He started on a WDO in April 2018.
By the end of this week he’ll have cleared his $8995 debt, and be fine-free for the first time in 15 years.
“I wasn’t in a position where I would have been able to pay off any fines,” James said.
“(Having such a debt makes) you just feel completely hopeless. I felt like I wasn’t able to get out of it, no matter what I did.
“It’s been a terrific thing to better myself; it’s been such an immensely valuable thing to everyone around me.
“It’s paid off in spades and helped everybody around me. My life is so much better now.”
James has secured a rental property, which he has never had before. He’s been drug-free for about three-and-a-half years, and crime free for three years.
Having previously completed a Certificate II in community services at TAFE Wollongong, Tuesday was the second day of his Certificate IV at Shellharbour.
“I’d like to end up assisting where I’ve been assisted – maybe working in the drug and alcohol field, or in the homeless sector or mental health sector,” he said.
Watershed services manager Anna Bruseker praised James’ efforts, and the scheme itself.
“I think the WDO program is very beneficial - it gives people the opportunity to become debt-free who would otherwise have absolutely no chance,” she said.
“They’ll always have that burden hanging over their head, which then makes it difficult to move forward.”
A WDO can reduce fines debt by up to $1000 per month.
From July 2011 to June 2018, more than 63,000 people took part in the program and $124,756 million in fines were paid off.
Legal Aid NSW spokesman William Verity said the eligibility for the scheme is strictly limited to those in severe economic hardship, so it is unlikely that the fines would ever be paid.
“This is a world first – NSW was the first place to do this type of scheme, which has now spread to Queensland and Victoria,” he said.
“This is a way of saying, ‘you can pay off your fines, but you need to turn your life around in the process’,” he said.
*Surname withheld by request