1.2 Keeping Youth Out of Gangs

He aha taku patai?

An example by Aneta Cram

I knew that gang lifestyle is a problem in New Zealand, especially in rural communities. I remember going to school with kids, as I was growing up, who brought their “colours” to school, which showed their family ties to particular gangs. With the idea of exploring youth gang culture in New Zealand I began the process of research.

My first step was to find a question within this area that I would wish to explore further. I knew that this research idea had been explored to an extent in both New Zealand and overseas in the past so to get a base understanding of what I was looking at I merely had to find the resources.

I began by putting all the areas that I wanted to explore to do with this topic in a brainstorm, so that I had a visual reference to come back to during my research process.


I began my research by making a basic search of ‘New Zealand youth gang culture in New Zealand’ into Google search. This brought up a number of sites. From here I syphoned through the different sites to find what would prove useful and interesting in helping to draw out a research question. A couple of sites proved just that.

I found the following potentially useful texts:

  • A research paper conducted by the New Zealand Government, 'New Zealand Youth Gangs: Key Findings and Recommendations from an Urban Ethnography,' which provided information on what entices youth to join gangs in the first place:

    • a sense of belonging and camaraderie in the gang

    • a lessened sense of vulnerability

    • the gang being viewed as a protecting collective that looked after each other

  • Young People and Gangs in New Zealand. A parliamentary research paper on the involvement of youth in gangs in New Zealand proved to be useful in that it provided background history on gangs in New Zealand-what appealed and the societal basis which allowed for the ready adoption of gang formation in New Zealand.

This made me question:

  • What sort of young people join gangs?

  • What societal factors contribute to them joining gangs?

  • Also, have there been any programmes in the past that dealt with these forms of issues?

Background/Review of past projects

I continued with my research looking specifically at what people had done before me on this subject area, both overseas and in New Zealand.

In order to establish that the reasons for joining gangs as mentioned above is not merely New Zealand focused factors. I made a quick Google search into ‘gang and youth involvement globally.’ This came up with a recent report done in the UK which affirmed my thoughts with regard to the universal nature of the reasons why people join gangs (Home Department, 2011). It mentioned factors such as disrupted homes, a feeling of belonging; especially when after a certain age - when society begins to expect something from young people in regards to work and higher education.

I found one source that had been used in writing a United Kingdom report on gang culture, which specifically focused on early prevention of youth involvement in gangs. This proved to be an interesting read on young men taking initiative within their communities. It focused on youth who had been in a similar troubled way before they went through a preventative program which removed them from that lifestyle. They were now mentoring others who had yet to do the same. This was a good example of community programmes supporting youth in the UK to help themselves (Blyth & Solomon (Eds.) 2009). Although this didn’t directly help me focus on my research question it was good background reading on a programme which has proven to be a success.

With access to the Victoria University of Wellington web library, I went and searched through their databases using the key phrases:

  • ‘Maori gang culture’

  • ‘Gang youth culture New Zealand’

  • ‘New Zealand gang culture’

  • And ‘Maori youth gangs’

I also looked at relevant Journal sites, JSTOR being the main one. This gave me a good basis of texts, some of which didn’t hold much relevance to what I was looking at, such as texts from the late 19th century which focused on disciplinary methods of suppression. Others, however, proved to be fairly relevant in what I wished to focus on with my question. One in particular, an article, looked at current scholarship which focused on the approaches and evidence for the effectiveness of community-based youth gang intervention (Chaskin (Ed.) 2010). This article presented evidence for a multi-faceted community based approach. This would involve different programs in the community, working with families and the community at large.

Past Involvement

I was recently given the opportunity to see a programme which dealt with Young Maori men and how to combat the incentive to join a gang. This programme was set in a rural part of New Zealand and involved young Maori men of all different ages. The programme focused on keeping these youth out of gangs through providing a structured environment where they learnt about their Maori heritage and were given skills in Mau rakau, Maori ancient war stances with a taiaha, and were taught about respect for others and also for themselves.

This programme proved to be successful in that a lot of participants did not end up in gangs, but it was more than that. The youth seemed to be confident in understanding that they were as Maori and individuals in New Zealand. This programme promoted family involvement. It also provides an option for law-enforcement to offer youth offenders another chance in society, as often the participants in the programme have been referred there by police.

I thought that community support for this programme and participating youth could be better. I felt that there could be more avenues of assistance for the programme to help the youth to find employment and be given more of a support structure for planning their future within society.

Finalising my questionThrough researching and getting background knowledge on youth and gang culture in New Zealand, I found that it was interesting the way in which different communities dealt with youth gang involvement prevention. I want to know more about the types of communities for which gang involvement is prevalent and how what about that lifestyle appeals to young people. I want to know what community programs are already set in place which could be potentially useful in keeping young people out of gangs.

I started with: how to keep young men out of gangs?

Which changed to: how to keep young Maori men out of gangs?

Which after referencing back to my time working with a program who were already working in that area, and the issues they faced, changed to: How can the provisos available in communities be utilised in a way which can be of use in keeping young Maori out of gangs?

Now that I had a question, I began to think about the communities which I could look at and the different providers which can help me answer this question. I didn’t have enough information on providers to be able to formulate a good hypothesis, so I continued with my research with a new question in mind from my brainstorm.

What youth services are available in different communities?

A quick Google search led me to services such as:

  • Work and Income

  • Child youth and family

Under these different heading they provide support to do with family welfare, drug abuse, getting people into work, and Community initiative programmes. The Ministry of Social Development website also gave an understanding of all of the different projects which are being utilised within different communities.

Research Question

Looking at research and evaluation projects on youth and gang involvement I want to know:

Which community programmes that aim to keep young Maori men out of gangs have a high success rate.’


From here I’d consult with key stakeholders of different programs which focused on community based youth development for feedback and whether they would work with me on this project. Also, I'll want to find a community where multi-faceted programmes have already been implemented and look more deeply into the work they’re doing.


Blyth, M., & Solomon, E. (Eds.) (2009). Prevention and youth crime: is early intervention working. Bristol: The Policy Press.Chaskin, R. J. (Ed.) (2010). Youth Gangs and Community intervention: Research, practice and evidence. New York: Columbia University Press.Eggleston, Erin J. 'New Zealand Youth Gangs: Key Findings and Recommendations from an Urban Ethnography', Social Policy Journal of New Zealand.Home Department (2011). Ending gang and youth violence: A cross-government report. London: Home Office.


From: Cram, F. (2013). He Rangahau Kaupapa Māori: A guide to undertaking a Kaupapa Māori research project. Auckland: Katoa Ltd. Available from www.katoa.net.nz.