Lack of discipline in young people behind rising gang numbers, rehabilitation leader says

A gang rehabilitation leader believes a lack of discipline in young people is leading to a rise in the number of people joining gangs.

It comes as figures revealed to Newshub show gang numbers have increased by more than 50 percent in the past five years. The number of 18 to 25-year-olds joining gangs has jumped significantly, from 514 to 898 in the same five-year period - a 75 percent increase.

Gang rehab leader Billy McFarlane said he knew gang numbers would start to rise about a decade ago.

"I'm not surprised by what's going on in our society," he told AM. "Ten years ago when I worked in the prison - working with the youth up in Ngawha Prison - I could identify some potential problems for our future communities, one of them was the lack of discipline for our young children at home, our lack of discipline for them at school.

"I said, 'In 10 years' time, we're going to have a wave of young men coming through into our society that are going to have no discipline at all and are going to do whatever they want.'"

McFarlane's comments echoed those of community worker Adrian Pritchard, who told Newshub Late the rising gang numbers started with the lack of discipline handed out to youth offenders.

"If they break the law, they don't get much [of a] sentence, to put it bluntly," Pritchard said on Monday. 

"They don't get much discipline and gang lifestyle is if they aren't getting loved at home and they aren't getting accepted at home, then they're going to go elsewhere for acceptance."

Manukau Ward councillor Alf Filipaina said gangs recruited young people by offering to be their new family.

"What the recruiters of these gangs are doing is saying, 'We are the replacement - we are your family,'" he told Newshub Live at 8pm.

"Once they're in there, they get fed money, they get fed all the stories, they think, 'Yes, these people are the ones.'"

Meanwhile, McFarlane believed gang numbers were a lot higher than reported.

He said the latest figures didn't take into account everyone associated with gangs.

"Did we count the under 3-year-olds that have been born with gang colours on their cots? Did we count the under-5s that started their gang behaviour before they go to school?

"How are we actually counting these statistics? Because some of these young boys and girls don't have a chance as young children - they're born into gang life and that's a reflection of our society.

"I don't think those figures are anywhere near accurate because we're not counting the wider impact that these gang members have on their families and their friends."  

While the Police Commissioner has previously pointed blame at Australian deportees, or 501s, as contributing to rising gang numbers, McFarlane did not believe that was the issue. 

"We can't keep saying it's the 501s and blaming them for what's going on because these gang problems were existing before," McFarlane said. "It sometimes seems a bit of a smokescreen, to me."

Last month, the Government announced new police seizure powers for criminals and associates who tried to hide illegally obtained wealth and assets. However, McFarlane said this wouldn't stop gangs from operating.

Police Minister Chris Hipkins was not available for an interview with AM on Tuesday but in a statement said "the reason gangs are more visible is they are being more actively policed".

Hipkins said the Government was funding organised crime units across New Zealand to seize gang assets and get guns off the street "on a near daily basis".