Former Labour President Mike Williams calls for rehabilitation in prisons

Former Labour President Mike Williams says he supports the Prime Minister's justice reform ambitions, saying it's a "sad story" that there isn't enough rehabilitation going on in prisons.

Mr Williams spoke to The AM Show on Tuesday about the Government's failed attempt at repealing the three strikes law following objections from Labour's coalition partner New Zealand First. 

He said the Government's handling of the three strikes legislation overhaul was poorly handled, and that they could have "made some progress in this area, had they stepped back and not gone public so soon."

Mr Williams works closely with New Zealand's justice system, contributing his time to Howard League for Penal Reform, a charity with a history of working for prison reform and criminal justice in New Zealand. 

One of the organisation's main activities is getting driver's licences for young offenders, because there are an estimated 500 people in prison right now simply for driving without a licence. The funding from Howard League helps those prisoners get driver's licences. 

New Zealand First was "instrumental in getting the Howard League $7.5 million over three years to extend our driver's licence programme," Mr Williams said.

He has called for more rehabilitation in prisons since New Zealand's incarceration numbers are going up while crime rates are dropping. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told the AM Show on Tuesday crime rates are "pretty much static" in New Zealand but the prison population keeps on growing.  

Mr Williams said people should "listen to our Prime Minister", adding that New Zealand could learn from New York State where prison populations have been cut by a third over ten years through drug and alcohol rehabilitation and giving prisoners skills. 

"I hope the focus does go on to rehabilitation because my view of this three strikes law is that it's largely symbolic. There are only three people on their third strike: one is there for pinching the backside of a corrections official, and another is a mentally deranged guy who kissed a stranger on the street."

There are approximately 9632 people on the first strike list, which might suggest that the legislation is effective. 

But Mr Williams says the three strikes law is "largely symbolic", claiming it adheres to the 'lock 'em up and throw away the key' methodology.

He said 80 percent of crimes in New Zealand are committed when the offender is drunk, which points to a wider issue of drug and alcohol problems in the country. 

Mr Williams said he's seen a lot of incarcerated people in New Zealand that he believes should be out by now but they're stuck in prison because of the system. 

"There's a core of them who you would lock them up and throw away the key - people whose upbringing has been so appalling that they simply couldn't be let loose - and that's a tiny minority."

But there are around 500 people in jail right now simply for driving without a licence, he says.  

"Why don't we just help them get a licence?" Mr Williams said. "If you do something repeatedly often enough you will end up in jail. The funding from the Howard League is going to help those prisoners get driver's licences."

Mr Williams says there isn't enough public transport for people who live in rural areas, hence the reason people continue to drive without a licence.