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Prisoner's rights

Starting your sentence

Before your sentence starts

Can I be put in prison before I’ve been found guilty and sentenced?

Corrections Regulations 2005, reg 186

Yes, you can be held in prison while your court case is going on or after you’ve been found guilty but before you’re sentenced. This is called being “remanded in custody”, or simply “on remand”.

During your court case, the options are that you can be:

  • released into the community (called being “remanded at large”), or
  • released on bail with conditions, or
  • if the court refuses to release you on bail, remanded in custody.

If you’re on remand in prison before you’re found guilty, you’ll be held in a separate area from the sentenced prisoners. Most prisons have a remand unit (a block of cells) where all the remand prisoners are kept. If you’ve been found guilty or have pleaded guilty, then until you’re sentenced you may be held in a separate wing or section of the prison called “CAS” – short for “Conviction Awaiting Sentence”.

Being held on remand in a police jail

You may be held in a police jail, rather than a prison, for some of the time while you’re on remand. This means being held in the cells at a police station.

Usually this will only be when the police have decided not to release you at large or on bail and you haven’t yet been officially remanded in custody by the courts.

How long can I be kept in a police jail?

Corrections Act 2004, s 34

Police jails are only equipped to hold people for a short time, and so there are rules around how long you can be kept there. The remand facilities in a prison are better than a police jail.

You’ll usually only be in a police jail for up to 24 hours while you’re waiting to go to court to ask for bail. However, if it’s a long weekend or the Christmas period you could be in a police jail for up to four or five nights. Legally, you can be kept in a police jail for up to seven days at one time, and this can be extended to 14 days if there’s not enough room at the prison or if there are concerns for your safety at the prison. However, in practice it’s very unusual to be held in a police jail for more than four or five nights.

Can I be kept in a police jail once I’ve been sentenced?

Corrections Act 2004, s 34

Although legally you can be kept in a police jail once you’ve been sentenced (depending on the time limits explained above), this would be very unusual. You’ll usually be held in a remand facility in a prison.

Will I go straight from the court to prison?

Yes. You’ll normally be held at the court until the end of the day and then be taken to the prison with a group of prisoners.

Can I see my family before being sent to prison?

No, not usually.

Can I make a phone call before going to prison?

Corrections Regulations 2005, reg 87

Yes, you can call someone to let them know you’re in prison. If you are unable to make a call before leaving court, you will be able to make a call upon arriving at the prison. This doesn’t have to be a close family member or your spouse or partner – it can, for example, be a friend or a member of your extended whānau.

What if I don’t understand my prison sentence?

Discuss this fully with your lawyer before you leave the courthouse so that you do understand your sentence.

If you’re sentenced to a prison term of two years or less, you’ll only have to serve half of that sentence and then you’ll be released. If your sentence is longer than two years, you’ll have to go to the Parole Board to be released. You qualify for parole after a third of your sentence (unless the judge gave you a minimum no-parole period of longer than one third of your full sentence). You’ll need to convince the Parole Board that you’re not a risk to the community and that you should be released on parole. You must also have completed any rehabilitation courses you’ve been ordered to go to.

I’m not a New Zealand citizen – can I contact my country’s embassy?

Corrections Act 2004, s 42; Corrections Regulations 2005, reg 87

Yes, you can call your country’s official representative in New Zealand, free of charge. When you arrive in prison you can ask the prison staff to tell your embassy or high commission that you’re being held in prison, and they must do this. If there’s any mail you want to send to the embassy or high commission, the prison must send it without delay.

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Lag Law: Prisoner's Rights

Lag Law answers heaps of common questions you might have if you’re going to prison, you’re in prison, or you’re getting out of prison. It talks about your rights in prison, and sets out the laws and rules that affect you when you’re put in prison . 1 free copy for people in prison and the whānau of someone in prison. If that’s you, email laglaw@wclc.org.nz for your free copy

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