Literacy leap for prisoners – non-partisan leap for MPs

Mike Williams is Labour ex-president and a staunch party supporter. He is now CEO of the Howard League and is a staunch promoter of penal reform.

In an unlikely alliance he has joined with ACT MP David Seymour in suggesting a policy that should improve dire prisoner literacy rates and potentially improve the prospects of ex prisoners and reduce recidivism.

And Seymour’s suggestions have also got some support from Prime Minister Bill English and from Labour’s Justice spokesperson Kelvin Davis. Whether Seymour retains his Epsom electorate or not this year, and whoever forms the next government, it would be good to see his policy make some progress.

Williams writes: Literacy leap for prisoners. Some background:

 Howard League president Tony Gibbs and I have been running a long-term programme of raising awareness about the inability of a majority of prisoners to read and write sufficiently well enough to function as a normal human in modern society.

To this end we have been inviting politicians and other influential public figures to attend our Howard League prisoner literacy graduation ceremonies.

Many of our political leaders have never visited a jail or talked to a prisoner and most have no concept of the malign results of illiteracy.

Last year we had a graduation at Rimutaka jail and were very fortunate to attract Bill English, then deputy prime minister, as guest speaker.

Tony Gibbs has known former Act party president John Thompson for many years and through this connection, we also invited David Seymour, the sole Act party MP.

The Seymour experience:

At the Rimutaka graduation he chatted with a number of prisoner graduates and talked to the tutors who were there to see their students get their certificates.

Rimutaka jail is one of New Zealand’s largest prisons and can accommodate more that 1000 inmates, and David Seymour asked me why, if two-thirds of the men there were statistically likely to be illiterate, were we graduating only eight prisoners.

One answer to this question is that many prisoners have such negative self-images that they do not seek to improve themselves when there appears to be no reward for doing so.

The Seymour response:

David Seymour suggested that if prisoners were offered a discount on their sentences this might be the circuit breaker that not only inspired prisoners to get the basic skills needed to get work and “go straight” on release, it might eventually reduce prisoner numbers and start addressing the serious overcrowding problem that bedevils our jails.

These thoughts plus a lot of research turned into a new Act party policy which Seymour announced at the conference I attended.

He said: “It’s called Rewarding Self-Improvement in Prisons. This proposal would provide incentives, in the form of reduced sentences, for prisoners to complete basic programmes in literacy, numeracy, and driver licensing.

“Those prisoners who are already functionally literate, numerate, and licensed to drive, can still benefit from Act’s policy. They would earn credits for training as a mentor, and then teaching other prisoners.”

Seymour didn’t just learn from his prison visit, he researched solutions and looked for success with similar approaches overseas:

In the US, states that have Earned Credit Programs in prisons report a lower recidivism rate than states that do not have one. New York saw a 20 per cent lower recidivism rate among prisoners who earned early-release.”

Such a strategy is also likely to be financially attractive as David Seymour went on to point out.

“They save money. A model student serving a two-year sentence could, under Act’s proposal, shave 12 weeks off their sentence and save the taxpayer $14,000. And if their learning prevents future imprisonment, the saving could enter the $100,000s, which could be reinvested in educational programmes.

“And that’s just for one prisoner.

“The New York Corrections Department saved $369 million in a decade thanks to their earned credit policy. A proportionate saving for New Zealand’s population would be $113m for Corrections.

“The savings would be far higher if you include individuals, families, and businesses that would no longer have to face the costs of crime.”

Non-partisan support:

The Prime Minister said that it was worth considering and Kelvin Davis MP endorsed the idea on behalf of the Labour Party. Even the “tough on crime” Sensible Sentencing Trust supported the policy.

This amounts to a great leap ahead and a triumph for common sense.

It’s also a good example of how politics can work positively in a non-partisan way.

But why has it taken so long? Peter Dunne issued this media statement in 2006: Literacy another failure for Corrections

United Future leader Peter Dunne has called on the Government to address the issue of illiteracy amongst New Zealand’s prison population.

“One of the most effective ways of preventing inmates from re-offending is to teach them the necessary skills to get a job and make a contribution to society when they get out. That is a hard thing to do if they lack the most basic literacy requirements.”

Literacy education is provided within prisons; however only if a prisoner is motivated enough to address their own illiteracy issue can that prisoner be referred for literacy tuition.

The larger parties are unlikely to make addressing prisoner illiteracy a priority, so it may take an election win for Seymour and some vigorous lobbying to get some progress on his proposal.

ACT could make it a bottom line for supporting a National led government again – and National should be receptive to accommodating the policy.

If Labour lead the next Government it may take some pushing from Seymour and some help from Davis.

New ACT on crime and punishment

One of the best known ACT Party policies is the three strikes law which aims to lock up the worst offenders for longer. There is some merit to this, and there are risks of unintended consequences. It’s too soon to tell whether it is an overall success or not.

What three strikes doesn’t seem to be reducing is reoffending rates. Our prisons are full and there are plans to expand them.

ACT MP David Seymour has had a look at this and is proposing a different approach to dealing with increasing incarceration (while retaining three strikes).

NZ Herald: Act’s new approach to crime and punishment

The Act Party will “turn over a new leaf” and launch policy to support prisoners after leader David Seymour witnessed work being done by the Howard League for Penal Reform.

Seymour told the Herald a new policy would be revealed at the party’s annual conference on Saturday.

“We have done tough on crime and continue to promote those policies – extending three-strikes to burglary … but we are also going to turn over a new leaf and start talking about being smart on crime.”

This sounds similar to Bill English’s data based smart targeting approach to a range of issues.

A keynote speaker at the Act conference in Auckland’s Orakei is former Labour Party president Mike Williams.

Interesting to see Williams speaking at an ACT conference.

Williams is now the chief executive of the New Zealand Howard League for Penal Reform, which runs literacy programmes that aim to get prisoners to a competent reading level, enabling them to read books to their children, take driver tests and have a better chance of finding work when they are released.

Almost 65 per cent of the men and women in prison fall below NCEA level one literacy and numeracy.

That’s an awful statistic. Poor education is closely linked to crime.

Corrections formalised a partnership with the Howard League in June 2014, signing a three-way agreement with the Ministry of Education, and has allocated about $100,000 to expand the driver licence and literacy programme.

A very good idea with a bugger all budget.

Last year Seymour joined Williams and Bill English at a prizegiving ceremony at Rimutaka Prison, where inmates who had completed the league’s literacy programme and learnt to read spoke about what it meant to them. Tutors who volunteered in the programme also spoke.

“What they [the league] are doing is very Act,” Seymour said. “They have got a private initiative with volunteers … they have had an extraordinary impact on people who have never had a piece of paper with their name and face on it before, have never been able to open a bank account.

“I went there because I was already thinking about the issue … I still think that people that commit three violent crimes should get the maximum sentence. But I think we can do a bit better on the first two strikes.”

Three strikes on it’s own was populist but inadequate.

Williams – praised as “legendary” in an Act press release promoting his conference speech – told the Herald that he felt very positively about Seymour’s interest in reoffending programmes.

“I am on a completely different side of the fence to David Seymour. However, I am impressed with the guy. He is open-minded about the problem of incarceration in New Zealand, and I have found him intelligent and forward-looking.”

Perhaps Williams could talk to some in Labour too then, if they are prepared to listen. It’s good to see him prepared to promote his cause with any party willing to learn and act.

In October, the Government announced plans to cope with a booming prisoner population including a 1500-bed prison on the current Waikeria Prison site in Waikato.

Those changes will hit the Government’s books by an extra $2.5 billion over about five years.

That’s nuts. A decent dollop of that budget should be diverted to rehabilitation and prevention, that would make a much more beneficial difference to the lives and families of individuals and to the country as a whole.

Williams has previously said that although successive Corrections ministers have supported measures to reduce reoffending, the prison population was growing because of harder bail and parole rules, an influx of deportees from Australia and the three-strikes legislation.

So it makes sense that much more effort and money should go towards reducing  reoffending – and addressing the factors that lead to offending in the first place.

ACT will be announcing policy on crime this weekend.

I expect (or at least hope) the Government will act on this soon, like in May’s budget.

Mike Williams on what Labour knew

Ex Labour president Mike Williams speaking on Radio New Zealand on Tuesday about what Labour knew about the Mike Sabin stuff:

What I would say is that these matters were known New Zealand Labour Party activists well before the 2014 election. I’ve never heard of anything before the 2011 election which is where the NBR goes.

Our understanding, the Labour Party people up there told me, that a delegation of National Party officials actually went to visit the Member of Parliament well in advance of the election and came away.

Now if John Key didn’t know about that, ah, that is extremely surprising.

Was it kept from Key without him knowing or was it wilful ignorance – “I don’t want to know’ sort of thing?

Labour “won’t be terribly unhappy” with 27%

Labour were down 27.3% in the 3 News/Reid Research poll this week, a drop of 2.2%. Former Labour Party president Mike Williams said yesterday “I think the Labour Party won’t be terribly unhappy with that result”.

Really? They should be horrified.

This follows 28% in a Roy Morgan poll and 23% in a Fairfax/IPSOS poll last week, both trending down.

Labour sunk to a record low of 27.48% last election. That they are polling at a similar level now, less than three months out from this year’s election looks terrible for them.

Poll results leading into the last election:

They should be very unhappy.

Williams was interviewed by Guyon Espiner on Radio NZ yesterday in Another poll brings more bad news for Labour:

Espiner: When you and I spoke about this last time you said that if polls continued to show Labour in the earlier to mid twenties then people would start to worry that they could lose their seats, and their could be some issues for the leader. Are we there yet?

Williams: No. No, twenty seven is almost exactly what Labour scored in the last election, so no seats are under threat and the caucus will be relatively quiet. Um, it’s not a great number, but it’s, I think they’ll be breathing a sigh of relief Guyon, because they had a poll, the IPSOS Stuff poll earlier in the week that said they were on twenty three.

Now that is a very dangerous number because then your vote can collapse but twenty seven, twenty eight, I think they’ll be happy about that, particularly given that the capture period was during the Donghau Liu scandal…

There is quite a bit of talk about the risk of Labour’s support collapsing. Polling in the twenties is very risky territory, and some sitting MPs will be getting very uneasy.

Espiner: Really? I mean, I know you’re a glass half full guy on this stuff…

Williams: …you have to be…

Espiner: …but really Mike, I put it to you that twenty seven percent effectively means you can’t lead a government. I mean would it be credible to be the leading partner in a government on that sort of number, even if you could stack it up with all your mates?
Williams: Well it depends on what all the other parties get of course. Then you’ve got to remember that Labour scored twenty seven percent in the last election and were ten thousand votes away from leading the government, so anything’s possible. This is MMP.

Only if Greens, Mana, NZ First, United Future and the Maori Party made governing agreements with Labour. They would have needed substantially more votes to actually have been able to form a workable government.

Espiner: Yeah, but don’t you think these trends, um, I mean you compare it to the Fairfax poll, but if you look at TV3’s last poll, they were at twenty nine I think, and now down to twenty seven, the trend looks to be one way doesn’t it.

Williams: Well, you could also explain that by the capture period, and the capture period appears to be at the worst of the Donghau Liu allegations which of course have all been swept aside now and turned out to be fabrications [they haven’t], so honestly overall I think the Labour Party won’t be terribly unhappy with that result, and look upon it as something to build on.

Two days earlier David Cunliffe was talking up Labour’s chances after the release of their party list.

Cunliffe confident Labour will poll in 30s

Labour leader David Cunliffe says his party has “every expectation” of polling well on election day and bringing new MPs into parliament.

Labour unveiled its party list on Monday, but questions have been raised about how many of its candidates would make it in as list MPs, based on current polling.

Support for Labour has been sitting just under 30 per cent across most recent polls.

If current levels of support carry through to the election, Kelvin Davis – ranked number 18 on the list – would just scrape in as a list MP, if he fails to take Te Tai Tokerau from Mana leader Hone Harawira.

None of the party’s new candidates would make it into parliament.

But Mr Cunliffe is confident Labour will poll “well into the 30s” on election day.

The morning after the poll Jacinda Ardern wasn’t looking or sounding terribly happy on Firstline.

Ardern down with poll

Jacinda, those poll ratings are not looking great. Why are they in decline, and can you reverse them, have you got the time?

Ardern: Yeah I mean it’s fair to say we’ve had a rough couple of weeks and I’m not going to argue that those polls are good, we do need to do better, um but I would say that eighty days is still a very long time in politics, and it doesn’t feel to me as if we haven’t had as much time to talk about some of the policies we’ve announced even in recent times, our new tax plan for instance which was only announced this week.

Once we start talking to voters about some of the plans that we have to improve the New Zealand economy, reduce inequality, those are the kinds of ideas that I think will make people start to consider their options.

The problem is Labour has been trying to talk to voters for months. According to some analysts the negative polls are largely due to people moving from ‘Labour’ to ‘undecided’.

Polls could change and trend the other way, but for that to happen Cunliffe and Labour need to be seen to change significantly. What they are doing now is clearly not enthusing voters.

Labour should be terribly unhappy with poll results of 23%, 28% and 27%. And they should be doing something about reversing them. Same old parrot points won’t do it. They have to somehow look competent.

At least one thing may have worked in their favour this week – after political point scoring turned against them they seem to have come to the same realisation as Claire Trevett that Pointscoring politics in danger of boring voters.

These four in particular need to stop boring voters and significantly step up their credibility quotient.

Mike Williams wrong on Ohariu

In a Herald column It’s all down to a few key seats Mike Williams makes an incorrect claim:

The gambling website “iPredict” favours a Labour win in Ohariu and should the Green Party neglect to field a candidate, the outcome could see Peter Dunne collecting his gold-plated parliamentary superannuation in October.

He’s quite wrong about that.

Ohariou iPredict



That’s as at 11.40n am Sunday 11 May. It shows that Williams is wrong. Over the last month the Ohariu prediction for Peter Dunne has never gone below 77%.

And Greens have already announced a candidate – see Tane Woodley Green Party Candidate for Ohariu

While it’s possible Greens could pull him out but that based on past pratice that’s unlikely, the Greens have used electorate campaigns to promote party voting.


Mike Williams: NZ Power ‘masterstroke’, ‘sabotage’

Mike Williams said that NZ Power was a ‘masterstroke’ and effectively sabotages” asset sales when was interviewed on Firstline this morning:

Speaking on Firstline this morning, Mr Williams said the plan – aimed at halting the incessant rise in power prices – “effectively sabotages” the Government’s asset sales scheme.

“I think the power policy is a masterstroke by Labour and the Greens,” says Mr Williams.

“I’m not going to buy shares for $3 this year that could only be worth $1 in two years’ time.”

VIDEO: Mike Williams on Firstline

On Saturday David Parker denied it was sabotage and Gareth Hughes avoided answering a question about it.

At least Williams is honest about what has been done, but referring to something he thinks as sabotage as a masterstroke suggests that political wins are far more imporant to him than what is good for the country.

The Government (in other words New Zealand) stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars up front, on his calculations a billion or more in lost asset value,  and more in ongoing losses of dividends because as a direct result of the sabotage.

The cost of Labour’s “masterstroke” power play could be huge. And like many on the left of the left Williams seems to think that’s something we all should pay for his party’s political ambitions.

Wacko nutter (possibly from Waikikamukau)

Toby Manhire (Listener) tweeted:

Mike Williams on RNZ: blogs offer outlet for “the wacko nutter who used to stand up at the Waikikamukau local meeting”

Even more remarkable, Hooton: “Sorry for interrupting.”

Those comments were also noted at The Standard (Williams may have had The Standard in mind) and there was an interesting response:

Ha ha, fancy describing his fellow commentator Matthew Hooton as a whacko nutter. Kind of pulls himself into the realm as well. Idiot.

Who cares about what these well known commentators think of what goes on here. I would rather read the daily machinations here than listen to Hooton, Williams, and all the others. They have too many vested and conflicted interests to be taken credibly or seriously. That is where honest comment, by way of anonymity, comes into its own. They do all seem to be very upset though. I wonder why. Perhaps they should stop reading it.

I wonder if Williams has ever posted here? Betcha he has.

Dumb is as dumb does.

I’m not sure that will change Mike’s mind much. I don’t have any proof that ‘vto’ is from Waikikamukau but dumb is as dumb does.

That is dripping with probably unintended irony.

They have too many vested and conflicted interests to be taken credibly or seriously.

That could be in About at The Standard (if they were honest and realistic).

That is where honest comment, by way of anonymity, comes into its own.

There’s certainly some anonymous, good and apparently honest comment at The Standard. But because of all the anonymity,  use of multiple pseudonyms, frequent over the top attacks, and accusations without proof by people with obviously vested interests it’s very difficult to know which posts and comments can be taken seriously.

Mike is wrong to smear all blog commenters as “wacki nutters from Waikikamukau” (although there are some like that) – authors and commenters have quite a variety of positions within Labour, but because the vested interests are kept secret it makes easy to dismiss all as wackos.

But Labour ignores all the concerns expressed on blogs at it’s peril, and the party faces many perils at the moment.

It’s blanket dismissal of and disconnect from party faithful and non-party voters is a major problem, apparently still being ignored.

And it should be remembered that even wacko nutters vote. Labour obviously wants more people to vote for them, but they only want support from people who think they way they want them too. That is a diminishing pool, and they are unlikely to find them by fishing in the non-voter pond, bounty from there is more likely to be a mirage.

There’s also some comment on this at Kiwiblog from here.

UPDATE: Another comment (from ‘bad12) at The Standard:

Yes that from ‘Mr i am off to Australia to dig up the dirt on Slippery’, for a tame radio station like RadioNZ what’s-his face,(i tend to think of Him as That Fat Wanker), really layed it on thick with His little anti-Standard rant,

As usual the ‘weak host’ of the particular RadioNZ show sat in what can only be described as approving silence as (That Fat Wanker) defamed many commenters here on the Standard by claiming that He didn’t think that those who comment here while claiming to be Labour activists were actually active in the Party at all,

The up-side to that is that (a) the Standard is obviously having ‘some’ effect in the rarified atmosphere of national politics, and (b), the recent whipping of (The Other Fat Wanker) who appears on that particular RadioNZ received here at the Standard hit all the right spots,

Usually those 2 make absurd statements to the sound of i agree with (That Fat Wanker), which were the first words uttered with gushing approval by the ex Prez of Labour, but, noted with ;laughter was (The Other Fat Wankers) absence of agreement as (That Fat Wanker) attacked the Standard…

Why won’t the Labour leadership listen to people like this?

Prisoner reoffending reform

In a pre-budget announcement Corrections ministers have commited to spending on reform targetting reducing prisoner reoffending by 25%. This is a big target, but it’s well known that rehabilitation has not been given anywhere enough attention.

Budget 2012: $65m on reducing reoffending

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley and Associate Corrections Minister Dr Pita Sharples said the ‘reprioritised’ operational funding was aimed at reducing reoffending by 25 per cent by 2017.

It would go towards alcohol and drug treatment, increased education, skills training and employment programmes for prisoners.

Mrs Tolley said the funding would mean 18,500 fewer victims of crime and 600 less prisoners in jail in 2017 than last year.

“It’s time to get serious about breaking this vicious cycle of prison and reoffending.

Dr Sharples said represented a shift towards the rehabilitation and restoration of prisoners to their whanau and communities.

“This is a more humane response to offending, and it is cheaper and more effective.

As usual the media has found people who are able to find something critical about this, but it’s more interesting to see who is supporting it – the Howard League for penal reform, who’s chief executive is well known Labour official Mike Williams.

Howard League backs reform plan

Oppostion parties, a drug and alcohol counsellor and the Corrections Association are skeptical about whether a 25% reduction can be achieved.

But Howard League chief executive Mike Williams says international research shows such programmes work.

The Government says the target is bold but achievable.

The Corrections Department says it can achieve a 25% reduction in prisoner reoffending by 2017.

Chief executive Ray Smith says currently about 27% of prisoners reoffend when released and are back in prison within one year.

He wants this number to reduce to about 20% and says providing more participation in programmes for prisoners will lessen the likelihood of reoffending.

This sounds like an overdue no-brainer.

Jobs needed first

New Zealand First says the Government needs to create jobs for prisoners if it wants to reduce reoffending. Corrections spokesperson Asenati Lole-Taylor says there must be jobs for prisoners when they are released.

But Labour says jobs are scarce in the current economic climate, so finding work for ex-inmates is going to be difficult.

Of course proper rehabilitation means getting ex prisoners into jobs, and they can be hard to find, but it’s nonsense waiting until there are enough jobs – when will that be? Why can’t reducing reoffending and increasing jobs happen concurrently?

This is a good example of parties working together in coalition, with the support of organisastions and people, where the priority is on finding what is most likley to work best, without getting bogged down with politics.

Reducing prisoner reoffending will result in whole of society benefits – less tax to fund police, courts and prisons, and less victims of crimes.