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Judith Collins a Better Gang Recruiter than Black Power

Judith Collins a More Effective Gang Recruiter than Black Power

“If Judith Collins wants to eliminate gang recruitment within prisons, she need look no further than her own sentencing policies, and those of government”, says Kim Workman, Adjunct Research Associate, at the Institute of Criminology, Victoria University.

In a recent interview, Minister Collins claimed that the percentage of gang members in the prison population has risen from 15% to 30% since 2008. It doesn’t take much to figure out why.

Most prison gang recruitment occurs when a young offender is remanded in custody, and is targeted by older gang members. These young men, often in prison for the first time, are vulnerable and need protection from violence, fight clubs and intimidation – joining a gang achieves that. The best way of preventing that is to bail offenders, and keep them away from older gang predators.

In 2013, Collins championed the hardening of bail laws. First, the burden of proof was reversed so that defendants now have to prove they are eligible for bail, rather than the Police having to show they are not. Second, the presumption in favour of bail for 17 to 19 year olds was removed. Third, defendants bailable as of right, could now be remanded in custody, where considered appropriate.

These changes were accompanied by shifts in police behaviour. The police opposed bail more frequently, knowing that they no longer had to convince the court that the defendant should be kept in custody. Eligibility for legal aid was restricted, with more defendants appearing without adequate legal representation. As a result, and in the absence of support, many young Maori had difficulty articulating why they should be bailed, and ended up in custody.

As a result, between February 2014 and 2016, the remand population increased by approximately 40% and remand prisoners have accounted for around 90 per cent of the increase in the last year. Of those remanded in custody. That is where the increase in gang recruitment, and gang numbers is coming from. Of those remanded in custody, less than half will receive a custodial sentence. But, the harm has been done. Our sentencing and bail policies are promoting gang recruitment.

“My advice is this. Stop blame-shifting. Prison volunteers are not the problem. Instead, do a comprehensive review of the increase in custodial remands and the bail laws. That is what is contributing to the growth in gang numbers in prison.”


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