LA-style gangs fuel problems in NZ prisons
Increasing numbers of violent young gang members in jail - like those involved in last week's destructive prison riot - may force Corrections to review the way it deals with patched inmates.
Figures revealing the gang affiliation of New Zealand prisoners have been released, showing that while Mongrel Mob and Black Power still hold sway behind bars, "Los Angeles-style" street gangs are gaining numbers fast.
New Zealand has traditionally had large, national gangs engaged in organised crime, while the LA-style gangs are smaller, younger groups, closely tied to their neighbourhoods and ethnicity.
They are responsible for local, often violent crime, and gang rivalry is prevalent.
Experts say the street gangs' younger members are more prone to violence, and will only cause more trouble, like the riot at Spring Hill prison last Saturday, if they are not better managed.
Three guards suffered broken bones and two prisoners were injured in the eight-hour riot, believed to have arisen from a power struggle between Killer Beez gang members.
The Killer Beez are an Auckland-based gang whose membership in jail has grown by almost a third in two years.
Gangs researcher Jarrod Gilbert said they fit the LA-style profile, with some of their members barely out of school.
"They are younger men who, without the supervision of older members, tend to be more violent inside.
"The older ones learned the ropes, they know it's better just to do the lag," said Gilbert.
"Those prisoners need to be occupied. You can't leave them locked up in cages. It creates disharmony that can lead to violence."
Corrections Minister Anne Tolley acknowledges that the growing number of young gang members behind bars is an issue which Corrections must address.
Figures on gang affiliation show the Mongrel Mob still has a firm grip on its place at the top of the food chain, with more than 900 members in jail as at April 2013.
Its arch-rival, Black Power, has 697 offenders locked up, making it the second strongest gang.
The Crips, a street gang, has 361 members inside, while the Killer Beez has 138 and the Bloods 110. In 2011 those figures, respectively were 235, 96 and 68.
Corrections documents show more than 30 per cent of the country's 8000 inmates are affiliated to more than 40 gangs, and that they cause "a disproportionate number of problems, covering a wide range of criminal behaviours including violence, intimidation, extortion and fraud".
Corrections analysis found 70 per cent of assaults on prisoners between May and September 2008 were caused by gang members, while 44 per cent of victims had gang affiliations. Half of all attacks on prison guards during the same period were caused by gang members.
Corrections has a gang management plan for its prisons, but would not release details.
It did say gang colours, symbols and paraphernalia are prohibited in jail, and attempting to recruit gang members is a form of misconduct which can result in a prisoner losing privileges.
One source said other tactics included keeping the numbers of gang members in certain wings at even levels to create a "neutral" atmosphere, and only letting members of "friendly" gangs out of their cells at the same time.
Corrections' deputy national commissioner Maria McDonald said while it had no control over which inmates came to each prison, they did take into account each offender's affiliation when working to keep the public and guards safe.
Tolley understood a good proportion of the Spring Hill rioters were Killer Beez, but the direct cause wasn't yet tknown.
"It could be something insubstantial.
"I understand the cause of another major riot was a lack of cold water in the laundry," she said.
The best way to prevent young gang members from causing trouble and returning to jail was to train them for employment, she said.
A prison source said the riot was unlikely to be primarily motivated by gang loyalty. One rumoured reason was that some rioters had been making moonshine and prison officers had discovered it.
The most powerful gangs in prison, by membership (2013)
Mongrel Mob 934
Black Power 697
Killer Beez 138
Head Hunters MC 110
Tribesmen MC 108
White Power/Skinheads 74
King Cobras 54
Other gangs in prison, by
membership (figures from 2011)
Mangu Kaha 38
Rebels MC 30
Road Knights MC 27
Filthy Few MC 19
Uru Taha 17
Hells Angels MC 15
Highway 61 MC 14
Nga Toa 64 Aotearoa 10
- Sunday Star Times