American style street gangs are surging in New Zealand prisons, and a gang expert says they are "back in vogue" among youth.
While most gangs are growing their numbers in prisons, with members and affiliates at record levels, LA style street gangs like the Killer Beez, Crips and Bloods are among the fastest growing according to an Official Information Act response to Newshub from Corrections.
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These younger gang members are targeting prison officers with attacks that are more violent and unpredictable than ever.
Corrections chief custodial officer Neil Beales told Newshub: "They are younger, they are more prone to violence, they're willing to go further and do more than perhaps we'd seen before."
He said it's far more than just a right hook or a left jab. "We're talking more weaponised assaults or stamping on heads, or stamping on peoples' backs, more vicious, more pack attacks."
Corrections principal officer Ray Sio said the younger gang members "just want to come through and make a name for themselves and if that's by assaulting staff or assaulting other prisoners then that's what they'll do."
He said he has witnessed shocking violence on the job, which he described to Newshub.
"Officers lying in a pool of blood, officers being smacked around with a pool cue, there's been staff that lost an eye, you know, been out of the job for six months due to an injury from a prisoner."
Mr Beales said Corrections has been surprised at the speed of growth of the young gangs and the age that they are joining up, seeing "young men who seem to be quite happy to throw the rest of their lives away."
University of Canterbury sociologist Jarrod Gilbert told Newshub the younger members can't be controlled by older ones, because the older membership doesn't exist in the same way that it does with traditional patched gangs.
"I thought those younger gangs would be absorbed into our traditional gang structures, that hasn't occurred. They've gained a longevity and so with that longevity they've got numbers within prison and with those numbers they've now got influence."
"The numbers are on a steep incline, recruitment has occurred in earnest for the first time in a long time and they've become, for want of a better term, back in vogue."
Mr Gilbert said the newer gang members can be characterised as "hyper-materialistic".
"They want to buy in to the finer things of life, the bling, the expensive cars, the designer clothes, and if they can't see means by which to achieve that legally then of course profit-driven crime is the outcome."
He said the membership of the LA style street gangs is far more violent because the members are younger, so are statistically more likely to be violent, and when they are grouped together they create far more problems.
Mr Sio said at times the violence led to officers questioning whether to leave.
"At times you question whether you should still be in the job or should you go, leave you know in terms of going back home to your families in one piece, but then again you want to be there for your mates and comrades that you work with day in day out," he said.