Date of the report

Contact with the outside world

The Prison Operation Manual allows prisoners to have at least one approved private visitor per week, for a minimum duration of 30 minutes. Prisoners who are serving a period of cell confinement, however, are not entitled to such visits.

Visits can take place in a visiting room or in a booth. Prisoners are allowed to hug or kiss their relatives when greeting and before leaving but staff are present in the visiting room for monitoring. No body contact is possible during a booth visit. Booth visits are used as sanctions for inmates that have tested positive to drugs.

Conjugal visits are not provided under New Zealand’s law.

Special visits can be arranged for occasions such as family visits from overseas and the bereavement of a loved one.

The procedure to request visits is quite time consuming. Visitors who are aged 16 or over have to fill an application form first. Prison staff assess each application and make a recommendation to the prison manager. If the application is approved, an approval letter is sent and visitors can then book a time. In most cases, only the minimum time is approved (one 30 minute visit per week). Above that standard minimum, the frequency of visits depends largely on the policies of prison’s direction.

The Parole Act 2002 sets out the legal framework for early releases from detention. The Parole Amendment Bill 2012 modified some parts of this law.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed its concern that the Amendment Bill 2012 reduced the number of parole hearings to one every two years instead of one every year.

The Sentencing and Parole Reform Act 2010 introduced the ‘Strikes Regime’, where repeated conviction of offenders over 18 increases their penalties, and no parole is possible after the ‘second strike’. Furthermore, for ‘third strike offenders’, judges must hand out the maximum possible term of imprisonment without parole, regardless of the seriousness of the offence.

According to a report from the Salvation Army : "Concerns have also been expressed as to its exacerbation of the criminal justice system’s disproportionate effect on minority groups […] Professor Warren Brookbanks stated that this disproportionality is the Three Strikes’ most ‘disturbing feature’ and echoed previous critiques that when we compare strikers to the general population we see a ‘dramatic ethnic overrepresentation of both Māori and Pasifika, akin to that of African-Americans under California’s three strikes law"

The Salvation Army report adds that: "Perhaps even more disturbing is that this disproportionate impact was predicted and accepted in the Explanatory Note of the Bill when it was introduced, with the statement that ‘the policies [are] expected to impact on Māori the most’, and that ‘long sentences without parole deprive offenders of the possibility of rehabilitation, compounding the effects on the whānau of offenders and the intergenerational effects on children separated from parents."

Lengthy periods of time in remand may also prevent prisoners from obtaining an early release from prison. The UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT) pointed out a case at Mount Eden where a prisoner spent 556 days in pre-trial detention before being sentenced to three years of imprisonment. The time spent of remand was deducted from its sentence but this meant that during it, he was not able undertake programmes that would allow him to be eligible for an early release. According to the SPT, "de facto, the detainee spent virtually his entire sentence on remand".

Offenders who cannot afford a lawyer have a right to access legal aid. For correctional offences, this assistance is a government loan and offenders may have to repay a part of it. For criminal offences facing prison sentences of six months or more, legal assistance is free.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention showed concern over the “persistent bias against Maori at all levels of the criminal justice system1. The SPT was worried about the "increasing delays within the Court system” and the fact that pre-trial detention is “not used only as a measure of last resort and is often unduly prolonged."2

Prisoners are informed of the prison rules and the routine of their units upon arrival.

Prisoners can make complaints to the Office of the Ombudsman, via the internet, writing or by phone. The Offender Management System (IOMS) centralizes all complaints sent to the prison managers. The SPT noted the fact that it was not able to verify the status of prisoner’s complaints against staff and suggested they were not being considered promptly or properly. The SPT was also concerned over the fact that request and complaints were being submitted on the form and processed the same way: "As a result, simple requests are not dealt with quickly, and serious complaints can be trivialised."3

Prisoners are not allowed to vote in New Zealand since the enactment of the Electoral Amendment Bill 2010. This legislation is not retrospective so all prisoners convicted before 2010 are still allowed to vote. The Taylor v Attorney-General decision by Auckland High Court ruled this law inconsistent with the section 12(a) of the Bill of Rights.

  1. UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, A/HRC/30/36/Add.2, p. 13 

  2. UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture, CAT/OP/NZL/1, p. 8 

  3. Op. cit., p. 10 

New Zealand ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) on March 2007.

That same year, an amendment to the Crimes of Torture Act created four National Preventive Mechanisms (NPM) that monitor specific places of detention. The Human Rights Commission serves as the Central figure, co-ordinating and reporting to the UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture.

The four NPMs are:

The Office of the Ombudsmen: Monitors prisons, immigration, detention facilities, health and disability places of detention, and Child, Youth and Family residences. The Ombudsman can investigates individual cases, and publishes reports of its visits. It is directly accountable to the Parliament.

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner: Monitors Youth Justice Services and child care centres.

Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA): monitors treatment of detainees under police custody. The IPCA can make recommendations and conduct investigations but does not have power to prosecute police officers.

Inspector of Service of Penal Establishments: Monitors defence force penal establishments.

Making complaints to the Ombudsman can be done via email, fax, mail, or by downloading the online complaints form from their official website.


PO Box 10152
Wellington 6143

Free phone:

0800 802 602
(+64 4 4739533)

The Government allows international monitoring of prisons. In the recent years, the UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention made visits and publish reports on the state of prisons in New Zealand.