Mike ‘Fat Tony’ Williams says some nice things about Judith Collins

Mike Williams, affectionately known as "Fat Tony"

Mike Williams, affectionately known as “Fat Tony”

Mike ‘Fat Tony’ Williams has had some nice things to say about Judith Collins in the HB Today on prison reform.

I was saddened to see New Zealand’s prison population is about to hit an all-time high of 9320, and is projected to rise even further.

This is happening despite our falling crime rate and the best efforts of successive governments and the Corrections Department to reduce prisoner numbers. So what’s going on?

If you examine the numbers closely, you’ll discover the total number of sentenced prisoners is falling, if slowly. The big jump occurs in the number of remand prisoners and this is almost entirely due to changes in the Act of Parliament governing remand.

Looks like Mike Williams has read the stats and reports far more comprehensively than David Clendon and Kelvin Davis.

Judith Collins, now returning as Minister of Corrections, faces a huge and expensive problem but I, for one, have some faith she can make a real difference.

It is easy to write off “Crusher” Collins, as one editorial did, as a “penal populist” interested in little except “getting tough”. It is also unfair and untrue.

If you have visited Auckland Women’s Jail as I have, you’ll see newish, tidy, self-contained mother-and-child units where offender mums can keep their kids for much longer than the nine months that was allowed before Judith Collins came along.

Officials at that jail will tell you this innovation has dramatically changed the jail’s atmosphere for the better.

I attended the first opening of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation unit some years ago at Auckland Jail (Paremoremo). This was to be the first of many and begins to address the awful fact that a high proportion of crimes are committed when the offender is drunk or addicted to some drug or other.

There are now many such units. These started on Collins’ watch, too, as did the successful drug and alcohol courts in operation in Waitakere and Auckland.

A couple of years ago, Bill English described prisons as a “moral and fiscal failure”. Later in the same speech he said: “It would be good if we could have … less young people coming into the … pipeline where they start with a minor offence and end up with a 10-year sentence.”

Where and how this pipeline starts is well known, and I’ve used this quote from British author Neil Gaiman before: “The [private] prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? They found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10- and 11-year-olds couldn’t read.”

There are nearly 500 people in jail right now for repeatedly driving without a licence.

As the Howard League has demonstrated in Hawke’s Bay, the great majority of these offenders, with personal attention and some literacy instruction, can get licences and stay out of jail.

Let’s hope Minister Collins is as creative this time around as she was before.

That’s some high praise from Mike Williams. I wonder how he will react when Labour approaches him to help with fundraising again?


– HBToday