24 Aug 2018

'If gangs are part of the problem, they should be part of the solution'

11:12 am on 24 August 2018

The government must understand gang culture in order to fix New Zealand's prison problems, a Black Power elder says.

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Photo: Youtube

Gang elder Eugene Ryder would like Black Power to be crime-free, with a group of tax-paying members who contributed to society.

"The government agencies don't believe that we can play a positive role in the lives of our members," Mr Ryder said.

"They're starting to recognise that we're actually a part of society, part of the community, so there is hope."

Black Power would like to start working with those agencies to explain gang culture, which could lead to a more effective criminal justice system.

"A lot of the agencies talk about cultural competencies and they're only referring to Māori, but within Māori what we know is that 51 percent of those that are incarcerated are Māori, and I suspect 80 percent of them are part of a gang culture.

Read more about changes in NZ's gang culture:

"It's all very well to be competent in Māori culture, but what use is that if you're not competent in gang culture. One of the ways forward is to become competent in the cultures that exist within those spaces."

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis said he was open to working with gangs, but "our first shared priority should be to stop their members entering prison in the first place".

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Photo: RNZ / Leigh McLachlan

"There is little point helping gang members in prison if we do little to stem the flow of gang members coming through the front door of the prison.

"If gangs are part of the problem, they should be part of the solution, but they need to realise that if they want to see changes within Corrections, then they need to demonstrate that they are also prepared to change."

A police spokesperson said they, too, would work with gangs.

University of Canterbury sociologist and gang expert Jarrod Gilbert said gangs like Black Power were giving the justice system a unique opportunity.

"We ought be there to work with them where we can.

"Given that they do play such a major part, we actually know very little about them, so it's important that we target measures in a slightly more sophisticated."

Gang members tried working with prisons before but it had not ended well.

In 2016, Black Power member Ngapari Nui was removed from his volunteer role at Whanganui Prison by then Corrections Minister Judith Collins because of his gang affiliations.

It was described as a conflict of interest, but for Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Ruanui Trust kaiarataki Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, that was the kind of disruptive move that could be needed.

"I don't think we as a nation have any other choice but to embrace that part of our diversity.

"[We have to] figure out how to take those that have the transformation experience to be able to help change some of these numbers."

Mr Ryder did not think prisons were working for gang members.

"What's difficult to understand is that when a member of whatever gang is released and he gets parole conditions, one of those conditions is that he doesn't associate with gangs, but he's spent the last 10 years associating with all the gangs within the prison system.

"We have sons that under the eyes of the law, aren't allowed to go home, and brothers and sisters that aren't allowed to associate."

He said it is time for Black Power to "take the criminality out of our whanau".

"Our reality is, and we all hear about young people being the leaders of tomorrow [but] if we don't change something our young people are going to be the prisoners of tomorrow."