Mike Williams

Illiteracy and crime: Fat Tony explains

Fat Tony AKA Mike Williams

Mike Williams the CEO of the Howard League for Penal Reform presented the below power point at the Act Party conference on the weekend. In my write up about his presentation, I was vague on some statistics so I am grateful to now be able to share with you all exactly what he showed us all. These are the facts about the link between illiteracy and criminality, the keys to reducing reoffending and some real life success stories.

In support of the kind of work that the Howard League does Act has released a new “carrot policy” to encourage criminals to upskill. Act call it “rewarding self-improvement.”  The policy would not apply to the worst violent or sexual offenders. Prisoners would be able to earn a reduction of their sentence by successfully completing literacy, numeracy and driver licencing courses.

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ACT – tough on crims? Not anymore

Yesterday ACT and Mike Williams teamed up to announce it was going to cuddle crims instead.

Prisoners would have their time in jail slashed if they complete literacy, numeracy and driver licensing courses, under new Act Party policy.

Former Labour president Mike Williams, now with the Howard League for Penal Reform, strongly backs the policy – and says Corrections chief executive Ray Smith has expressed enthusiasm.

Act leader David Seymour announced the radical new policy in his keynote speech to Act’s annual conference in Orakei today.

Eligible inmates would earn up to six weeks for every year of their term, depending on the types of courses completed. For example, a person sentenced to three years in prison could get up to 18 weeks deducted from their time in jail.

Act is known for its hardline law and order policy, and was behind the introduction of the controversial three-strikes legislation.

Today’s policy is a significant departure from that approach and focuses on rehabilitation.

I have no problem with rehabilitating those who are capable and willing.  There is no point in destroying more lives for the sake of it.   But it does leave ACT’s messaging confused.

With prisons overflowing and crime up, the electorate wants to hear how more of them are going to get locked up.  And that’s traditionally the area ACT have been strong.  Three Strikes for burglary would be welcomed, if not Three Strikes for anything that has a minimum two year jail term.

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

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

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.

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.

“He came to me afterwards and said, why aren’t more prisoners doing these courses,” Williams said. “I said, well there’s just not the demand. And he said, how would you create the demand?”

Seymour then developed the policy, which Williams said the Howard League strongly supported.

Once again, no problem in principle.  But there is an opportunity cost to this.  And the price ACT is paying is that they are now no longer tough on criminals.   Fake that you’re no good at reading or maths, do some tests and presto – time off your sentence.

Williams said the policy could save the country millions of dollars, given it cost about $2000 a week to keep someone in jail. He said it could cut reoffending by as much as 50 per cent.

Those who want to and can should get the opportunity to so what it takes to stay out of jail.  And if that requires government help, I’m good with that.

Strategically, in an election year, I don’t see this as smart ACT policy.  Not when crime is up, police are straining to keep up, and the public are sick to death of pandering to criminals.

 

– Nicholas Jones, NZ Herald

What Mike Williams and David Seymour have in common

Mike Williams the CEO of the Howard League for Penal Reform spoke at The Act Party conference yesterday. As an ex-president of the Labour party and also their past campaign manager of four elections, I didn’t expect him to share any common ground with a party like Act. After all one of Act’s flagship policies was the three strikes legislation which is all about the stick and deterrence.

Mike Williams or Fat Tony as Cam has always affectionately called him, made a strong case for the power of volunteering where the cost to the taxpayer is zero. More to the point he illustrated examples where the cost of removing barriers was insignificant compared to the savings to the taxpayer when an offender was removed from both the justice system and the benefits system.

The barriers he mentioned were:

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Mike Williams on the politician of the year

Mike ‘Fat Tony’ Williams writes about his politician of the year in the HB Today.

After reviewing the impact of Trump and Brexit he concludes:

When we ask if any of these trends and political movements have resonance in New Zealand, the answer is not too clear.

Certainly we used to have a large and reasonably well paid industrial working class which now seems a lot smaller than it used to be.

The jobs that sustained my father and our family simply no longer exist, but others have popped up and looking around our big cities, it’s impossible to spot the kinds of “rust belts” of abandoned factories that blight once industrial power houses like Detroit and many towns in the North of England.

With the TPPA off the table courtesy of Mr Trump, free trade is unlikely to become an issue but immigration might.

The flow of immigrants reached an all-time high of more than seventy thousand in the year to November 2016.   Read more »

Fat Tony on Wellington’s building crisis

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Mike ‘Fat Tony’ Williams discusses the Wellington CBD issue after the earthquake, amongst other things.

With just a year to go before the next General Election in New Zealand, yet another disaster in the shape of large earthquakes has struck in the South Island and reverberated badly as far as Wellington.

The locations of these shakes, mainly thinly populated rural areas, has meant that the cost in human life has not been near the scale of the Christchurch earthquakes or the Pike River mine explosion, but it will still be expensive.

The roads, particularly the one on the coast north of Kaikoura and rail line in the same region will be very expensive to restore and the infrastructure in the small towns that dot the region will not be cheap to set right.

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Mike Williams on the stupidity of Peter Butler

Mike ‘Fat Tony’ Williams has been having a blinder these past few weeks.

Of course, he has been helped by the stupidity of Hawkes Bay local body candidates or outgoing mayors.

It’s obvious that the retiring Central Hawke’s Bay Mayor, Peter Butler, doesn’t read my weekly musings in Hawke’s Bay Today.

Had he bothered to do so he would have known that a powerful factor in local election success is name recognition.

Not long ago there was reference to the fact that when voters are confronted with long lists of candidates they will very often opt for a name they know.

Peter Butler’s attempt to make sitting regional councillor Tom Belford reveal his email and telephone records for a 17day period last month amounts to a timely and very valuable gift to Councillor Belford.

It put him on the front page of Hawke’s Bay Today just when the Hawke’s Bay electors are filling in their voting papers.

It’s hard to comprehend what possessed Mayor Butler.

His “official request” for Tom Belford’s telephone and email traffic was never going to be fulfilled before the local polls closed and even if this showed Mr Belford communicated with all of the people and organisations on Butler’s list, who cares?

It would only demonstrate that Councillor Belford was doing his job.

Peter Butler would not comment on why he had requested the information. We can only suppose that he’s a secret supporter of Tom Belford.

The Hawke’s Bay local elections are more interesting than those going on in Auckland.

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Fat Tony on fire again

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Mike ‘Fat Tony’ Williams is on fire again:

By now Hawke’s Bay residents and ratepayers who have enrolled to vote in time will have their local election voting papers, though statistically not many will have yet ticked the boxes and posted their votes back.

From a distance (and relying on the chatter of friends and relatives) it looks like the big issue in Hawke’s Bay is water; whether it’s the Ruataniwha dam, contaminated drinking water in Havelock North or the bottled water giveaway.

I note at least one Regional Council hopeful backing off support for water bottlers at great speed and Hawke’s Bay Today reminding its readers about just who did endorse this giveaway with a not-very-old photograph.

As a political organiser I was involved in many local election campaigns in New Zealand and Australia. Seldom were serious issues like Hawke’s Bay’s water involved in these contests and very often they were just good fun.

 

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Fat Tony is on fire

Mike Williams, affectionately known as "Fat Tony"

Mike Williams, affectionately known as “Fat Tony”

Mike ‘Fat Tony’ Williams is on fire. His latest column in the HB Today is about holding the ratbags in the Hawkes Bay to account these elections.

It looks like the Hawke’s Bay water contamination scandal and the proposed Ruataniwha dam scheme have morphed into one issue in many people’s minds and will influence the outcome of the local elections.

The revelation that unconsented feedlots with unknown numbers of livestock have been established along our rivers is enough to make a mockery of the desperate attempts of dam supporters and irrigation fanatics to convince us that cows can’t be responsible for the gastro bug that afflicted so many.

Those who have developed an interest in the dam plan, whether for or against, should take the time to read the Court of Appeal decision that has stopped the scheme in its tracks. This decision is easily accessible and can be found as the last published decision in August this year on the Court of Appeal website.

The full title of the decision is “Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand Incorporated v Minister of Conservation”.

The legal background to this action comes from the basic design of the dam which, to be financially viable, must flood two pieces of land amounting to 22 hectares which are within the Ruahine Forest Park (RFP) and are therefore the responsibility of the Department of Conservation.

The promoters of the dam plan devised a swap whereby DOC would relinquish the required land in return for a bigger piece of land known as the Smedley Block that the dam promoters, The Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company (HBRIC), would purchase and swap.

This land swap has always been crucial to the scheme. Without the right to inundate these two parts of the RFP, I’m told that any dam would contain less than one third of the capacity of the planned dam.

At that capacity, the scheme is simply not viable.  

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Mike Williams on leadership of Labour and of National

Mike,”Fat Tony” Williams was Labour’s best fundraiser. He was also the president of Labour under Helen Clark and resigned shortly after the 2008 election loss.

He writes in the “Hawkes Bay Today” about Labour’s leadership problems:

THE week in politics graphically underlined the knife-edge result of the 2014 general election.

A parliamentary majority was recently assembled by the Labour Party to extend paid parental leave from 18 to 26 weeks, and Finance Minister Bill English was forced into the rare use of a “financial veto” to defeat a measure that would have otherwise passed into law.

This demonstrates just how close the National-led government came to defeat in 2014, and caused me to contemplate our political parties’ succession plans and to speculate on who will be National leader in a few years’ time.

One of the few weaknesses of the Helen Clark government was that no such plan was developed and this meant that Phil Goff, her successor, got off to a weak start from which he arguably didn’t recover.

We acted as though Helen would be there forever, even though we all knew that anything more than three terms was historically unlikely.

Goff was effectively selected over the heads of the party and the caucus as a whole by the outgoing cabinet, which delivered a fait accompli via cabinet solidarity.

He would have won a contested ballot, but the contest would have engaged the media and given him a three-dimensional profile which he never really achieved.

As he contests the Auckland mayoralty, people are getting to know him in ways that simply didn’t happen when he was Labour Party leader. He’s interesting, he’s funny and he’s grounded.

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Faces of the day

CHRIS MCKEEN/ FAIRFAX NZ The Howard League's Tony Gibbs and Mike Williams have introduced a literacy programme in prisons across the country.

CHRIS MCKEEN/ FAIRFAX NZ
The Howard League’s Tony Gibbs and Mike Williams have introduced a literacy programme in prisons across the country.

The Howard League’s Tony Gibbs and Mike Williams have introduced a literacy programme in prisons across the country.

…It is these two, together with an army of volunteers and the full­time services of a retired teacher, who have introduced the league’s literacy programme in prisons around the country. Its success has spawned another programme: one designed to turn potential inmates around before they reach the prison doors.

Williams may have long left his leading role in the Labour Party. But he still has the persuasive oratorial and fund­raising skills born of a life in politics.

…Days before the Spring Hill ceremony, he seated himself in his favourite cafe to explain his current vocation. He starts by reciting author Neil Gaiman: “How do these people [private prison providers] plan how many cells they will need? Easy: you just find out how many 11 year­ olds can’t read or write.”

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