Visits, phone calls and mail: Communicating with people outside prison
Phones, computers and internet devices
Am I allowed to receive telephone calls?
Generally, no. But calls from your lawyer are allowed.
In rare cases some prisons may also allow you to receive a call on compassionate grounds – for example if there’s a family emergency. This will be up to your PCO and other prison staff.
Can I make telephone calls?
Yes. Every prisoner is entitled to make at least one outgoing telephone call of up to 5 minutes duration each week. You will only be allowed to call people on your authorised phone contact list. In most cases you will have to pay for the call. A phone card can be purchased through your trust account, brought in by a visitor, or mailed to you by someone on the outside.
If you are under 18 then you are allowed at least two telephone calls per week.
As well as at least one weekly call, you can also call your lawyer and official agencies like the Human Rights Commission and the Inspector of Corrections when you need to.
The times you can use the pay phone in your unit will depend on what is happening in your unit (for example, you won’t be able to use the phone during meal times or during muster times).
Can I be denied the right to make a telephone call?
You may only be denied the right to make calls from prison in two situations:
- if there is an emergency or high risk situation at the prison, or
- if you have been found guilty of an internal misconduct charge and are on cell confinement.
I’ve just arrived in prison – can I call my family to let them know where I am?
Yes, as soon as you arrive in the prison you can make one free phone call within Aotearoa New Zealand to a member of your family or whānau or to a friend or supporter, to let them know where you are.
I’m not a New Zealand citizen – can I contact my country’s embassy?
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 (either the receiving officer or your PCO or the staff in your unit) to tell your embassy or high commission that you’re being held in prison. The prison staff 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.
Can I call my lawyer?
Yes, the prison must give you “reasonable access” to your lawyer to talk about your criminal case. This also includes if you’re on remand and trying to get bail, or if you’ve been sentenced and you’re considering appealing your conviction or sentence. If you need to phone your lawyer, ask the prison staff in your unit and they’ll arrange it.
You should also be allowed “reasonable access” to advice from a lawyer about other legal issues (for example, a case in the Family Court), but the prison has a discretion about this.
Talking to your lawyer on the phone is free and doesn’t count towards your general phone time. The phone will be provided by the prison. The prison staff aren’t allowed to listen to calls between you and your lawyer.
You don’t have to tell the prison staff anything about what you and your lawyer discuss. The prison staff aren’t allowed to look at any letters sent between you and your lawyer.
You can’t phone your lawyer to get legal advice about internal disciplinary issues within the prison, unless you’re applying to the courts for a review of a disciplinary decision.
Can I choose who goes on my authorised phone contact list?
Yes. Each person you choose has to confirm with the prison whether or not they want to get calls from you. People on your list can also place restrictions on your calls (such as what time of day you phone). They can also tell the prison at any time if they no longer want to receive calls from you. The prison must tell you about any restrictions that apply to your calls, or if someone has withdrawn their name from your list.
You can have up to 10 people on your phone contact list.
Do I have to pay for my telephone calls?
Yes, it costs for you to make phone calls to all numbers except for approved 0800 numbers. Here are the different charges, as at Jan 2021:
$1 for up to 15 minutes > Local calls
25 cents per minute > National calls
35 cents per minute > Calls to cellphones
90 cents per minute > International calls
Free Approved 0800 numbers
You’ll need to get a phonecard to be able to make calls. For a list of 0800 phone numbers see “Support”
How do I get a phonecard?
Friends and whānau can post you phonecards, or they can leave them at the prison’s front gate, in which case they’ll be given a receipt for the phonecard.
If I phone someone, will they know I’m calling from prison?
Yes. The person you’re calling will automatically be told (by an automated voice message) that the call is from a prisoner and that they can either accept or refuse the call. They’re also told that the call will be recorded and will be being monitored. All calls are recorded, whether you make them from the phone in your unit or from a phone in the prison yard, and they can be used as evidence in a criminal court case.
Is there a time limit on my phone calls?
Yes. Telephone calls are for a maximum of 15 minutes and then they will cut out. However, if there’s no-one waiting to use the phone you can ring back straightaway.
Will my calls be recorded?
Yes, all calls are recorded, and they can be used as evidence in a criminal court case. As soon as you pick up the phone from the prison to ring out, there’s a recorded voice message on that phone telling you the call will be recorded.
The prison staff must not monitor (listen to or record) calls between you and:
- your lawyer
- the Ombudsman
- prison inspectors
- the Human Rights Commissioner
- the Independent Police Conduct Authority
- your local Member of Parliament (MP).
If your call is being monitored, prison staff must stop as soon as they realise that you are speaking with someone who is exempt from being monitored. The recording must be wiped.
Can I speak in my own language when I make phone calls?
Yes, you can make phone calls in any language.
Can I use my mobile phone?
Can I communicate with people by a computer or other internet device?
No, you’re not allowed to use a computer or other internet-enabled device to communicate with other prisoners in the prison or with people outside the prison – for example, by using Skype or apps like Viber.
If you’re found with a computer or internet-enabled device in your possession, there’ll be an internal disciplinary charge against you.