President's Column: Gang intimidation

Vol. 48, No. 7 | NZPA | Sat August 1st, 2015

As I write, Corrections Department managers are squirming under the pressure of questions over gang-controlled fight clubs at Mt Eden prison and the unexplained death of a prisoner who was transferred from there.

I predicted some time ago that the unchecked rise of gang intimidation and organised crime in New Zealand would boil over into the public domain at some level.

The last time this happened was at the turn of the century when the gang-backed methamphetamine epidemic started claiming victims in the nicer parts of town.

Until the family members of the middle classes started turning up with meth habits and shady friends, the problem was ignored by those who matter – the government funders.

Issues that need investment don’t tend to get addressed until they start to hurt the government of the day politically. That is a reality of the three-year electoral cycle.

Once the government felt the pain from their electorate on the meth issue, suddenly money was found to address the problem.

Now, as I travel the country, and speak to people affected by increased gang activity, I am hearing similar stories: increased stand-over tactics, beatings, recruiting and fear of reporting matters to police – the very environment that gangs create and thrive in.

So, when evidence of gangs running rampant in prisons starts dominating the headlines it becomes clear we are reaching the breaking point again.

Only co-ordinated, focused and well-resourced investigations, such as last month’s one against the Head Hunters, will have an impact on the increased power of gangs.

Intimidation is their stock in trade and I can only imagine how easy that is for gangs to achieve in private prisons where the staff will have no option but to turn a blind eye, knowing they are unlikely to get much support from a board and management based in Australia.

Why would poorly paid staff members put their necks out, when to do so could put them or their family at risk?

In the case of the dead prisoner, the fact he represents a social group that middle New Zealand can relate to will mean the issue will not go away – a little like the meth habits of the Remuera teenagers.

Perhaps this could be the impetus for this country’s decision makers to understand that the need to protect New Zealanders from crime and its effects is long term and permanent, and that it can’t be side-lined with a series of mantras and by imposing short-term, but politically expedient, targets.

Meanwhile, the Police hierarchy will be anxiously watching the Corrections issues.  They will be wondering when reduced resourcing to target organised crime will affect other sectors and put them under the same pressures that Corrections bosses are now facing.

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