Gangs cost $714m in welfare, report reveals, as new intelligence centre launched

A new gang intelligence centre has been launched to "disrupt and dismantle" illegal activities from gangs.
CHRIS SKELTON/FAIRFAX NZ

A new gang intelligence centre has been launched to "disrupt and dismantle" illegal activities from gangs.

Nine of every 10 gang members in New Zealand have received a benefit or other welfare, costing the country $525 million between 1993 and 2014, a new report reveals.

Sixty per cent of children born to gang parents were abused or neglected, the report, by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), also found.

In total, cycles of violence within gang families will cost New Zealand's welfare system $714 million over their lifetimes.

Police Minister Judith Collins is maligned on the basis of her gender more than her politics, Rachel Stewart says.
KEVIN STENT/FAIRFAX NZ

Police Minister Judith Collins is maligned on the basis of her gender more than her politics, Rachel Stewart says.

The startling figures are behind a Government push to gather more data about gangs and their families, in an attempt to tackle the country's rising prison population and poor record on family violence.

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Police and Corrections Minister Judith Collins said gangs were a "huge driver" of child deaths and family violence, and tackling gangs would make a big difference to New Zealand's poor record.

"If you...look at the number of people in jail, they are almost invariably victims of family violence themselves somewhere along the line, and that's what breeds violence.

"If we're going to really make a dent in those figures….and help people save their lives, we're going to have to deal with those gangs."

With the nationwide prison muster reaching record levels, and over 30 per cent of the prison population affiliated with a gang, Collins said the Government's work could also help to reduce the prison population.

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"When prison directors tell me that 90 per cent of the inmates in our jails were themselves victims of family violence, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to work out, if we can cut down family violence we'll cut down our prison population."

While it would "take generations to get a complete change", Collins said action was needed now.

"By ignoring violent lifestyles and a violent culture, which is the gang culture, we're ignoring it at our peril and we're letting kids die."

NEW GANG INTELLIGENCE CENTRE

Collins said a new gang intelligence centre was now operating to collect information on the country's gangs, and had already produced "gang family trees" showing the cycles of abuse and crime over generations.

The centre would collect information produced by a range of government agencies, including the Ministry of Social Development, Corrections and police, improving on a lack of data-sharing between agencies in the past.

Collins said the information would be used to "disrupt and dismantle illegal gang activities", while also identifying and providing support to gang members and associates who wanted to leave.

Click here to see a fictional example of the kind of intelligence the Gang Intelligence Centre is beginning to generate.

THE REPORT

The MSD report found that nearly 4000 adult gang members had come into contact with the ministry's services, while 3516 children of gang members had been recorded by Child, Youth and Family as victims of abuse of neglect.

Forty-four per cent were emotionally abused, 28 per cent were neglected, 13 per cent were physically abused and 4 per cent were sexually abused in terms of substantiated findings.

Nearly a quarter of the children of gang members aged 10 or older had Youth Justice involvement with Child, Youth and Family, the report said.

Gang members and their children had cost CYF at least $189 million in their lifetimes to date, the report estimated.

In addition, MSD had paid gang members about $525 million in benefits and other welfare payments between 1993 and 2014 - an average of about $132,000 per person.

Over half (59 per cent) of all gang members spent time on a benefit with dependent children, with a total of 7075 children spending an average of nearly three years included.

Over 1300 children spent more than five years included in a benefit, with 319 supported by benefits for more than 10 years.

"Nearly 40 per cent of the children of gang members were first included in benefit before their first birthday."

'WORKING FROM THE COMMUNITY UP'

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said the Government had launched two pilot programmes for gang-connected families in response to the report, "working from the community level up" to work one-on-one with families and reduce the harm they suffered.

"This isn't just about giving them social support, this is about making sure that the kids are turning up at school and getting a good education.

"We're working with health to address some of their health issues, and also then giving them some of those support services and working across the families."

The trials would look at re-victimisation rates and other social indicators during and after the pilots, which would cost $1.1 million over two and a half years, to ensure they were making a difference.

POLITICAL REACTION

The gang centre announcement was greeted sceptically by political parties, with NZ First leader Winston Peters saying the proposal would not tackle those "engaged in serious endemic criminal behaviour at enormous destruction to their communities".

"When somebody in the House gets up with this sort of lofty, totally removed attitude from the reality of hardcore events in society...it shows me out of touch the National Party totally is on this issue."

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox said it was better to work closely with gangs to modify their behaviour, rather than "ostracising" their family members.

"We cannot paint every child and family of a gang member with the same brush, simply because they're related to that gang member."

ACT leader David Seymour said the Government needed to "look seriously" at the money gangs made from the illegal drug trade, and whether drug laws needed to be changed, rather than its current approach.

"If they want to announce initiatives such as having a special crack unit of police or putting in more funding or banning patches or whatever it is, we've tried that many times before and gangs are still with us."

 

 - Stuff

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