Gang numbers at never before seen levels in New Zealand prisons

The number of gang members and affiliates in prisons has soared 82 percent in the past five years to a level never seen before.

Five years ago there were 2362 gang members and affiliates, in March this year that number had risen to 4302.

Prisoners with gang links make up around 40 percent of the total muster of 10,600 inmates according to an Official Information Act response to Newshub from Corrections.

The Mongrel Mob still has the most members and associates at 1107. Black Power has 782, and Corrections wouldn't give an exact number for Crips but they are the third largest.

Killer Beez are fourth, up 215 percent in five years, while the Headhunters are up 237 percent. Bloods have the sixth largest presence, although again Corrections would not provide an exact figure.

Gang numbers at never before seen levels in New Zealand prisons
Photo credit: Newshub

University of Canterbury sociologist Jarrod Gilbert told Newshub that for a long time gangs in New Zealand were beginning to become less attractive, but there has been a resurgence.

"They've turned a corner, and what we've seen is certain young people coming into the gangs, making them seem to appear more dynamic, changing in how they look and how they operate and that in turn becomes more attractive to others."

Corrections chief custodial officer Neil Beales said: "We are seeing an evolution of gangs in prisons there is a, for want of a better word, you might want to call it a changing of the guard."

He said while assault rates have remained steady, the level of violence leading to hospitalisations or broken limbs or the use of weapons is rising as younger gang members enter prisons.

"I don't want to paint the picture that our prisons are in crisis or in chaos with gangs, they're not," he told Newshub.

Gang numbers at never before seen levels in New Zealand prisons
Photo credit: Newshub

"I think we have very much risen to the challenge of this younger generation coming in, people who are prepared to go further and do more and we have responded over the years by making sure our staff are well equipped, well trained, well resourced and well supported."

Mr Gilbert said gangs in New Zealand are understudied despite their prominence and the influence they have on our communities and our prisons.

"There's very good intelligence reports that are created but as a systematic understanding we actually know very little."

He said curbing the influence of gangs prisons is vital both inside and outside of the prison walls.

"Gang influence has an effect on prison culture and other people who are in the prisons looking to reform. So it's in everybody's interests that we solve these issues because what happens in our prisons comes out on the streets."

Mr Beales said to stop the influence of gangs, young people needed to be provided with a future, with mental health support and socioeconomic support.

"This is not a problem that Corrections can resolve all of its own. Let's not forget a lot of these young men were gang members before they came to prison, they've grown up in houses surrounded by gang members themselves," he said.

"We want to try to influence gang members to see that there is a better world for them if they can exit from the gangs, a better world for their them, a better world for their families, their children."