Visits, phone calls and mail: Communicating with people outside prison
Am I allowed to receive mail?
Yes. However, the prison staff will usually open it before you get it, to check it doesn’t contain anything you’re not allowed to have in prison. Sometimes they’ll also read it. This is explained in more detail below.
Am I allowed to send mail?
Yes, you can send as much mail as you like. However, it can be read by prison staff in some cases.
If a letter talks about something illegal, the letter can be used as evidence against you later on.
How do I go about sending a letter?
You can find out about this when you go through the prison’s receiving office when you first arrive in prison – or later when you get to your unit you can ask the prison officers or the PCO (Principal Corrections Officer, the senior prison officer in your unit).
Some types of pens are banned in prisons, including the older style pens with springs inside them. Again, it’s best to discuss this issue with the prison officers.
The prison should provide you with paper and envelopes to help you send letters. The prison will pay the postage on up to three letters a week sent within Aotearoa New Zealand. You have to pay for your own postage for letters sent overseas. The prison will also pay for postage for up to three letters per week sent to a lawyer, a prison inspector or the Ombudsman.
The prison provides mail boxes where you can post your mail. Prison officers can’t post letters for you.
Who can I send mail to?
You can send mail to anyone, but some conditions apply:
- To write to other prisoners you need to get permission from the prison.
- In some cases you’re not allowed to write to the victim of your offence.
These conditions are explained below.
Can I send mail to other prisoners?
It’s quite common for prisoners to write to each other within prison, but you’ll need to get written permission for this from the prison manager or prison inspector. You should start by asking your PCO about this.
You’ll have to give a reason why you want to write to the other prisoner. Reasons such as friendship or a family relationship are usually approved.
Can I contact the victim of my offence?
You can contact the victim unless:
- the victim has asked to be placed on the Victim Notification Register, which means that you won’t be allowed to contact them, or
- there’s a court order banning you from contacting the victim – for example, a family violence “Protection Order” made by the Family Court, or a harassment order or non-association order made by the criminal courts.
If you want to contact the victim to say sorry, you can ask about taking part in a restorative justice meeting. You can start this process through your case manager or your lawyer, or by contacting the organisation that arranges restorative justice processes in your area.
For more information about Restorative Justice, see the chapter “Before prison: The criminal court process”
Will the prison open my mail?
With some exceptions, all mail sent to you will be opened and checked for money or anything that’s banned in the prison.
The prison must not open letters to and from:
- your lawyer
- the Ombudsman
- prison inspectors
- the Human Rights Commissioner
- the Race Relations Conciliator
- the Independent Police Conduct Authority
- your local Member of Parliament (MP).
To make sure the prison doesn’t open mail from those people, it’s best to ask the sender to “double-envelope” those letters – this means the letter is sealed in an envelope then placed in a second envelope with a covering letter to say who the letter is from, and asking that the sealed envelope inside be given to you unopened.
Can the prison read letters that I send?
Prison staff can read a letter from you if they suspect that it will:
- intimidate or threaten the person you’re sending it to
- help someone to commit a crime
- put the discipline or security of the prison at risk
- endanger someone’s safety.
The prison has a wide discretion here, and the grounds for suspicion can be quite minor to allow them to read your mail.
Can the prison refuse to give me my mail?
The prison staff can refuse to give you your mail (or anything contained in it) if they believe it’s likely that it will:
- help someone commit a crime
- put the discipline or security of the prison at risk
- endanger someone’s safety or is openly hostile to someone and breaches their human rights
You’ll be told if your mail is kept from you.
If you haven’t received mail that you were expecting, you should first ask your PCO about it. If there’s a long delay in getting your mail you can complain to a prison inspector or to the Ombudsman.
What happens to things that have been sent to me in the mail?
The prison will tell you about anything that has been sent to you in the mail and that they’ve withheld from you.
Depending on what it is, the item could then be:
- dealt with under the rules for prisoners’ property – for example, money will be deposited in your P119 trust account and phonecards will be recorded in the “inwards remittances book”
- returned to the sender
- kept as evidence of intimidation or a threat to prison safety or security, or of a criminal offence.
Can the prison take copies of my mail?
If the prison manager gives written permission, the prison can take copies of your mail so that it can be used later as evidence in a criminal court case.
When they’re no longer needed as evidence, the copies of your mail must be destroyed.
Do I have to write or receive my mail in English?
No, you can write or receive mail in any language. However, if the prison staff suspect the contents might relate to something illegal, they might have the mail translated before they send it or give it to you.