The number of gang members breaching their home detention conditions has increased 60 per cent in six years, with nearly one in three breaches now involving a gang member.
But the Government says it’s “completely incorrect” to suggest it has been lenient towards gangs, and attributed a greater proportion of gang members being in prison to crackdowns by police such as Operation Cobalt.
The National Party, however, said the figures are an indication of a system “that’s got the balance wrong”.
“It’s an indication that there’s a substantial number of gang members who we don’t think are suitable for home detention,” National’s justice spokesman Paul Goldsmith said.
It comes after a police internal report, revealed by the Herald on Sunday, said criminals are “regularly” exploiting a “significant vulnerability” by wrapping tinfoil around their ankle bracelets and going on to re-offend.
It was earlier revealed the number of gang-affiliated offenders sentenced to home detention had increased by 60 per cent since 2017/18. The increase in gang affiliates being sentenced to home detention coincided with a 61 per cent increase in the gang population in New Zealand since 2017.
Answers to Written Parliamentary Questions from Goldsmith to Corrections showed there has been a 60 per cent increase in the total number of gang members breaching home detention since 2017/18.
The total number of individuals who breached home detention went up by 9 per cent, with the number of total breaches increasing by 32 per cent.
Gang members made up 30 per cent of total breaches of home detention. There was also an 87 per cent increase in the number of gang members on home detention in the South Island.
Goldsmith told the Herald he was concerned about the figures from a “public safety point of view”.
“[We] think it’s an indication that there’s a substantial number of gang members who we don’t think are suitable for home detention,” he said.
“We believe firmer sentences are required, which is why we’re going to make it an aggravating factor to be a member of a gang and, secondly, why we’re going to limit the ability of judges to significantly reduce sentences.”
Goldsmith believed the numbers were an indication of a system that had “got the balance wrong and is not sending a strong and clear message around gangs”.
“We’ve seen a very mixed message, frankly, from Government - sometimes being tough on gangs, and sometimes giving them money for all sorts of schemes, and we think we need a clear message that any government will be firm on gangs because of the misery they peddle.”
Goldsmith said there would be certain circumstances in which it would be appropriate for gang members to be on home detention, but said his party believed there “should be less, fundamentally”.
Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis said it was “completely incorrect” to suggest the Government had been “lenient” towards gangs.
“There [are] a greater proportion of gang members in prison because of crackdowns by police such as Operation Cobalt, which has seen more than 47,000 charges laid.
“There are also more gang members on home detention because they are being charged and held to account, thanks to the 1800 extra police we now have working to disrupt this type of activity.”
Davis said the number of people on home detention had stayed stable during the past 10 years. At the end of last month, the current number of people serving a home detention sentence was lower than at the same time in 2017.
“Before this year, the number of breaches has been relatively stable. We may be seeing some people breach more than once, but I am advised by Corrections that it is not aware of any specific reason for the increase. Regardless, there will be consequences for anyone who breaches their conditions, no matter how minor.”
Davis said it was the National government that passed legislation to expand home detention use late in its last term.
“Before National criticises the use of electronic monitoring methods, it should take a look in the mirror and consider its own description of it as “a proven and successful way of protecting the community”.
“It’s supposed new idea on making gang membership automatically an aggravating factor just tinkers with the status quo, which as it stands means being in a gang or an organised crime group is already an aggravated factor at sentencing.”
Davis reiterated that the Government would be “keeping an eye” on the situation of people on home detention, particularly those sentenced for violent offences.
Corrections’ acting National Commissioner Sean Mason said Corrections was responsible for managing a person’s compliance with any conditions imposed while on home detention.
Any instances of non-compliance were treated “extremely seriously”.
A person could be breached for a range of reasons, including not reporting to their probation officer, not telling their probation officer about a change in address, not attending counselling or a programme and not complying with electronic monitoring.
Sam Sherwood is a Christchurch-based reporter who covers crime. He is a senior journalist who joined the Herald in 2022, and has worked as a journalist for 10 years.