Corrections Minister Anne Tolley says the Government is considering paying for released prison inmates to relocate so they can leave gangs without fear for their safety.
The number of inmates with gang affiliations has doubled in the past five years and the Corrections Department is developing a programme to help offenders break their ties.
Gang members are almost twice as likely as other prisoners to reoffend within 12 months of leaving prison, at a rate of 41 per cent compared with 22 per cent.
Corrections chief executive Ray Smith said inmates he had spoken to were "overwhelmingly" scared to leave gangs.
"The challenge for us is to develop a programme which helps people leave their gang affiliations in a safe way," he told Parliament's law and order select committee yesterday.
Some inmates had told him it would be easier to leave gangs if they were moved to areas away from their associates when they left prison.
"I do think the relocations option seems to be practical if we can get support from community-based organisations," Mr Smith said.
Mrs Tolley said it was early days but the programme was an opportunity for Corrections to try different methods to reduce reoffending.
Mr Smith said inmates were generally not recruited by gangs in prison, although it did happen.
However, Labour MP and former corrections minister Phil Goff said answers provided to him by officials showed the increase in gang membership was caused by recruitment in prison. "So some people are coming out of prison worse than when they went in.
"Sometimes they have developed obligations to the gangs, sometimes they simply made those connections and decided to be part of it."
While funding released prisoners to relocate was a good idea, it was only a partial solution.
"We are a small country. If you have your family in Auckland and you're released from prison, you are going to go back to where your family is."
- The Dominion Post