Dame Catherine Tizard named Patron of NZ Howard League
23 November 2011
Former Governor General, Dame Catherine Tizard has been named as Patron of the New Zealand Howard League for Penal Reform.
Dame Cath joins President Tony Gibbs and CEO Mike Williams at the head of the organisation, which is stepping up its work to reduce the country’s imprisonment levels.
CEO Mike Williams said the focus of the League is to get practical initiatives in place that actually address the reasons why so many New Zealanders, particularly young men, end up in prison or re-offend when they are released.
“We are talking to corporate New Zealand about jobs for prisoners when they are released. This is the single biggest practical step we can take to cut New Zealand’s appalling recidivism rates,” he said.
According to the NZ Howard League’s own research, countries like Germany where the employment of released prisoners by major companies is regarded as a civic duty show much lower rates of re-offending and recidivism.
“We’re also recruiting retired Primary School teachers to volunteer their time to teach prisoners to read and write. We’ve been out visiting the prisons and talking to them about this literacy programme and our volunteers are about to start a pilot of the programme in two prisons,” said Williams.
Mike Williams said a similar literacy in prisons programme had been very successful overseas where it is helping prisoners build the skills they need to get jobs after their release.
President of the NZ Howard League Tony Gibbs said having a ‘hands on’ Patron like Dame Cath is important for the League as it takes a more active approach to tackling the country’s high incarceration rates. “We need proven international strategies tailored for New Zealand to reduce the numbers in our prisons without compromising community safety.
“When Mike and I approached Dame Cath to become Patron she told us she was not prepared to be a figurehead and said ‘give me something to get stuck into.’ “
Known as a straight-shooter, Dame Cath describes the number of New Zealanders in prison as a ‘national disgrace’ and says she will be joining Tony Gibbs and Mike Williams in ‘wearing out a bit of shoe-leather’ to actually make a difference.
“Tony and Mike know how to get things done. They’re out in the prisons, they are out in the community recruiting teachers and businesses and that is what’s needed - we can’t just talk about it, we have to be about it.”
New Zealand has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the western world and the League estimates that even a 20 percent reduction in the prison population would save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.