Ex-Mongrel Mob chief Willy McGregor: Why people join gangs

Members of the Mongrel Mob. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Members of the Mongrel Mob. Photo / Brett Phibbs

A former chapter president of the Mongrel Mob believes the Government shouldn't treat all gangs as an inevitable evil.

As Police minister Judith Collins announced new strategies to support gang families, disrupt gang activities and stop young people joining gangs, Willy McGregor said gang members often become involved in crime because of a lack of legal economic opportunities.

He told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking he joined a gang to hang out with his mates and colleagues, and it had nothing to do with organised crime.

READ MORE: Rachel Smalley on gang culture

"We all worked together in the same freezing works, we all played in the same rugby teams, we partied together, we were the epitome of what you'd call a brotherhood."

McGregor, who was once the President of a Mongrel Mob chapter, is now involved in turning young people away from gang life.

Ms Collins said that although the Government had a new plan to tackle inter-generational violence associated with gang culture, it was not going to be easy.

She said officials could no longer think of the issue as being "too big".

"With these families proliferating as they are, we'll just keep on having more and more violent people and we'll just keep locking them up. So we do actually need to get into this, this is not easy though Mike, if it was easy it would have been done 40 years ago."

She hoped this would make all the difference.

"You know when you look at 60 percent of all children raised in these gang homes are abused... that is what's driving those Child, Youth and Family numbers."

Ms Collins said practical measures like not putting children back with family, or extended family, who are gang members form part of the plan.

However, there was a warning that any attempt to tackle gangs needs to start with our prison system.

The Government's launched two pilot programmes in the Bay of Plenty, and the other on the East Coast, as a new report shows that the long-term cost of social support for gang members is more than $700 million.

One of the programmes is aimed at stopping young people being recruited, the other to support the partners and children of gang members.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said the Government was aiming to break inter-generational gang involvement and cut related social costs.

"Gang life ruins families, and the social cost through domestic violence and child abuse is unacceptable," she said.

Green Party criminal justice spokesperson David Clendon said the basic idea works well, as the solution to New Zealand's gang problem "is investment in education, in rebuilding families and housing, in employment opportunities."

However, Clendon said the programmes missed a crucial part of the problem.

"We also need to stop putting so many young men in prison, where inevitably they become recruited by the gangs, particularly the short sentence inmates going into our prisons."

- Newstalk ZB

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