Last Wednesday, Police and Justice Ministers Chris Hipkins and Kiri Allan announced a new package of legislation designed to "combat gangs".
The legislation, which is to be rushed through Parliament, creates several new offences and expands police powers to search and seize the property of alleged gang members.
Unfortunately, the proposals ignore many drivers of the crime dominating headlines recently and are unlikely to actually address many of the harms being caused.
Popular analysis tends to point to causes like a gang war, or young people engaging in copycat behaviour. It is politically convenient to frame problems like this, as a simple product of individual choices. Doing so avoids uncomfortable questions about how these choices might be connected to systems in which we all participate.
Digging a little deeper shows some harsh realities.
A society that's failing to meet people's basic needs, where half the population, 2.5 million people, share just 2 per cent of the wealth. A political system that ignores our ongoing crisis of poverty, but responds to other crises with massive payments and unprecedented transfers of wealth that widen the gap between rich and poor. A broader history of racism, colonialism and alienation.
This is not to excuse or ignore the harm that some people or groups cause. Most often the victims of that harm are people within the same community, facing the same barriers and disadvantages. We need to do better to make people safe, but doing so means acknowledging what is really driving harm.
Unfortunately, populist point-scoring over these issues has limited political action and drowned out the voices of experts. Consequently, the package announced by the Government on Wednesday is more about "tough on crime" optics than it is about reducing harm.
Of particular concern in the package are expanded search powers being given to police because it isn't just criminals that will be caught up by these. In some communities, most people have connections to someone on the national gang list, and, rather than criminal, these are usually just family or other social links. It's also very easy to get on to the national gang list, but not easy to get off.
A number of our members report being targeted by police simply for these connections. Their experiences show how traumatic it can be when police get their decisions wrong over who, when, and how to carry out searches. People are rightly fearful that children, kuia and kaumatua might be caught up in a similar experience.
Ultimately, the proposed changes make it likely that innocent people will suffer undue suspicion. Meanwhile, other punitive "tough on crime" measures consistently fail to keep people and communities safe. They funnel already-marginalised people into the criminal justice system.
People emerge from this system with stigma that stacks society even further against them. Many are pushed back into out-groups like gangs for support or income. Those who serve a prison sentence become more likely to re-offend. As a result, victims are likely to be re-victimised.
There are alternatives. The work needed to enact them is difficult and complex, but if the Government responded with the same urgency, scope, and resourcing that is being thrown at "tough on crime" approaches these alternatives could be possible.
Addressing the drivers of crime begins with things like fully funding mental health services, tackling poverty and redistributing wealth appropriately, reforming our outdated, prohibitionist drug laws, and ensuring everyone has access to the basics like healthy food and affordable housing.
Further work involves rethinking how we approach crime and harm. This often gets dismissed by conservative politicians as a "kumbaya session" but, in reality, it involves an approach to harm and accountability that many people would already be familiar with.
For example, very few people would call the police to stop a friend from driving drunk. Most would simply hold that friend accountable and help them to find an alternative. This is an effective approach that we can apply broadly, but we need to invest heavily in service providers to carry out this work and build capacity within communities to do the same.
What we can't do is continue to pretend that harsh punishments act as a deterrent. This approach has landed us in our current situation and increased the prison population to one of the highest per-capita in the world under the last National government.
Unfortunately, populist "tough on crime" narratives are standing in the way of this progress towards a safer, fairer society.
• Tom Pearce is parliamentary advocacy co-ordinator and Finlay Moran a political outreach co-ordinator, for People Against Prisons Aotearoa.