Visits, phone calls and mail: Communicating with people outside prison


Who can visit me?

Corrections Act 2004, ss 69, 73; Corrections Regulations 2005, regs, 99, 100; Prison Operations Manual, V.01

Anyone who’s an approved visitor and on your visitors list can visit you.

It’s important that your visitors have the approved visitors card (this is a photographic ID) and that they book in their visits within the allowed visiting times. They’ll need to get their visitor card at least one day before they first visit. For how to get an approved visitor card, see below.

If a visitor breaks the rules for visits, they can be banned for between three and 12 months, depending on what it is they did.

If you’ve had an internal disciplinary charge against you, this may mean you lose privileges, and this could affect the number and type of visits you get – for example, you may only be allowed to have non-contact visits.

How does someone get approval as a visitor?

Corrections Regulations 2005, regs 99, 100; Prison Operations Manual, V.01

To get approval, the visitor will need to fill out an application form. They can get the form from the prison. Getting approval as a visitor is a bit like applying to get a passport: they need to provide a passport-type photo and they also they need to get someone who knows them to sign the application form.

It usually takes at least one week to be approved, so the visitor should apply for approval well in advance of their planned visit. If they know that you’re on remand (in prison while your court case in going on) or that you’re likely to be going to prison soon, they can start the process of applying to be an approved visitor in advance. If you need help, try calling Corrections on (04) 460 3000. If you are unable to get the help you need, you could try seeking advice from a Community Law Centre.

How often can a person visit me?

Corrections Act 2004, s 73; Corrections Regulations 2005, regs 103, 104, 182

Every prisoner is allowed at least one visitor each week for a minimum of 30 minutes. Every prison and unit has specific dates and times for visits and for specific types of visits. For example, the remand unit at Whanganui Prison (Kaitoke) currently allows visits on three days of the week – Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Often, if you’re in a reintegration-type unit, those units will have family days in addition to regular visiting – for example, on one Sunday every two or three months.

Can I my child visit me while in prison?

Yes, your child can visit you through the usual visitors’ process. You can initiate the process by talking to your PCO. A form will be sent to the child’s guardian as all children (17 and under) need to get a letter from their guardian if they want to visit. If you are the sole legal guardian then your child can explain on the form that you are the guardian. If the guardian is not available, or the guardian is not appropriate to provide consent for the visit, then the form can be sent to any other person that would be appropriate to provide consent in the circumstances (this may mean the child can provide their own consent).

Approval for visits from children can take up to 6 weeks to be approved so you should start the process as soon as possible.

Can someone who has been a prisoner visit me?

Yes, but generally the visitor is more likely to be approved if they are your partner or a member of your immediate or extended family or whānau. They’ll need to get permission before they come. The prison will only approve the visit if they believe that the visit is likely to maintain family and social relationships in order to promote your reintegration into the community when you are released.

Can the police visit me in prison?

Corrections Regulations 2005, reg 107

Yes, but you don’t have to meet with them if you don’t want to. If a prison officer comes to get you and it’s not a visiting time for you, you can ask who the visitor is and if it’s the police you don’t have to go.

If you do meet with the police, a prison officer must be present at the beginning of the visit. If you change your mind and decide you don’t want to keep talking to the police, tell the prison officer and they’ll bring the visit to an end.

If you meet with the police you can tell them that you want a lawyer and they need to make one available to you.

You have the same rights when you speak to the police in prison as you do outside of prison. At no stage do you have to see or talk to the police.

When can my lawyer visit?

Corrections Act 2004, ss 73, 74

Your lawyer can see you about any legal business at any time while you’re in prison, but they must arrange the visit with the prison first.

A visit from your lawyer is in addition to your other visiting rights, so it doesn’t affect whether you can see other visitors.

The prison staff aren’t allowed to listen to what you and your lawyer say to each other. You also don’t have to tell the prison staff anything about what you and your lawyer discuss.

See “Lawyers and legal aid” in “Before prison: The criminal court process

Can people be prevented from visiting me?

Corrections Regulations 2005, regs 114-116, schedule 4; Prison Operations Manual, V.03.03, 04

The prison can refuse to allow a person to visit you if they believe the visit could put prison discipline, security or your rehabilitation at risk, or if they break visiting rules or behave improperly during a visit. They will be given a written notice explaining the reason for the exclusion and a date when the exclusion will expire.

If the visitor isn’t happy with the reason for this decision, or if they’re not given any reason, they can complain to the prison manager, then the inspector or Ombudsman.

See the chapter “Making complaints about your treatment”

Do my visitors have to tell the prison who they are?

Corrections Regulations 2005, regs 99-101; Prison Operations Manual, V.01, V.03

Yes. Before visiting you in prison for the first time, visitors need to gain approval to visit, which means getting an approved visitor’s card (a photographic ID). For every visit, a visitor must give their name and address to the prison and they also need to have their visitors’ card with them to get into the prison.

When can I have visitors?

Corrections Act 2004, ss 69, 73; Corrections Regulations 2005, regs 175, 182, 187

If you’re not being punished for misconduct, you’re allowed visitors for at least 30 minutes each week. Visiting day is often Saturday, but this is up to each prison.

If you’re in prison on remand (that is, while your court case is going on), you’ll usually get more visiting days than other prisoners. The prison must ensure that visiting times for remand prisoners are as flexible as possible.

If you are under 18 or in a youth unit, you may get more visiting time. The prison must ensure that visiting times for prisoner’s under 18 are as flexible as possible.

Female prisoners who have given birth to a child while in prison or are the mother of a child less than 2 years old can apply to have daily visits from their child.

For more information, see “Family matters

How many visitors can I see at each session?

Prison Operations Manual, V.02, F.10

Each prison decides how many visitors are allowed at each visit. You or your visitors can ask what rules apply. Often the limit is three adult visitors at a time. Sometimes up to three children can join them.

If you wish to see more members of your family at once, you may wish to work with your unit to arrange a family day. Each unit can have up to two whānau days a year, which are special days when the unit hosts whānau all together.

Where will I see my visitors? Is it private?

Corrections Regulations 2005, regs 112, 113; Prison Operations Manual, V.04

Your visits will be in an area supervised by prison officers, but you can expect to have a reasonable amount of privacy. Prison officers won’t be right next to you and your visitors – they’ll usually be watching from the edge of the room, which can be quite large.

The area itself depends on which prison you’re in and your security classification. Visits can be held in the church or recreational hall, or sometimes even outside the prison.

Can I hug my family?

Yes, you are allowed physical contact with your visitors, but there are limits. You need to take guidance from the officer supervising your visit.

Will there ever be glass between me and my visitor?

Corrections Act 2004, ss 69, 73; Corrections Regulations 2005, reg 158

Yes. Some people are only allowed non-contact visits. You will be taken into a booth with glass between you and your visitor. You will be able to hear each other and see each other, but not touch each other.

The prison should explain to you why you are not allowed contact. Often it is if you have tested positive for drugs.

Can my visitors bring me things, such as food or presents or money?

Corrections Regulations 2005, reg 34; Prison Operations Manual, V.03.06

Visitors can’t bring you anything at all without the prison’s permission.

Visitors are usually allowed to take phone cards and money to put in your P119 Trust Account.

Your visitors should give anything they’ve brought for you to the prison officer when they arrive at the prison. They can’t pass you anything during a visit without permission.

If your visitor has a baby with them then they can usually take:

  • a drink bottle with made-up formula (which may be heated with hot water provided)
  • a nappy bag with spare nappies, wipes and extra clothing (nappy bags have to be see-through plastic).

Toys are not permitted.

Can my visitors be searched?

Corrections Act 2004, ss 99, 101, 141; Corrections Regulations 2005, reg 111; Prison Operations Manual, V.03.06

Yes. Visitors should expect to be searched when they come to visit. They can be searched with an electronic “scanner” or they can be given a rub-down search. If they don’t agree to be searched, they won’t be allowed to visit you. All prisons now have at least an electronic scanner that visitors have to walk through.

Sometimes a prison will conduct random car searches as visitor cars enter the prison grounds. This can include dog searches. The drug dogs are often present when vehicles and visitors are coming and going, and they can put the dogs through your car to search for illegal or banned items. Visitors can refuse to let their car be searched, but if they do refuse they’ll have to leave.

If a banned item is found during a search, the visitor will be banned from visiting and won’t be able to enter any prison for a certain period, usually at least 12 months. The visitor may also face criminal charges.

Can I be blamed if a visitor brings a banned item?

Corrections Act 2004, ss 128, 141

Yes, you can. You could face either internal disciplinary charges or criminal charges if you’re caught with the visitor trying to give you a banned item, or if your previous communications with that visitor (as shown by a recorded phone call) indicate that you encouraged the visitor to bring the item in or knew that it was coming in.

You can face internal charges if it’s tobacco; if it’s an illegal drug you could face criminal charges. Internal prison charges can result in your visits being limited to non-contact ones, or in you losing privileges. If criminal charges are brought and you’re found guilty, this could result in you having a longer prison sentence to serve.

Can the prison tell my visitors to leave before visiting time is up?

Corrections Regulations 2005, reg 114

If the prison officer supervising the visit thinks you or your visitors are behaving badly, the officer can end the visit.

Visitors will also be asked to leave in an emergency, such as an earthquake.

Can the prison use physical force to make my visitors leave?

Corrections Regulations 2005, reg 115

Yes, if a visitor refuses to leave the prison officers can use only the amount of force that is reasonable in the situation to remove a visitor.

End of Chapter

Did this answer your question?

Visits, phone calls and mail: Communicating with people outside prison

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide initial free legal advice and information.

Also available as a book

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 for your free copy

Buy Lag Law: Prisoner's Rights

Help the manual

We’re a small team that relies on the generosity of all our supporters. You can make a one-off donation or become a supporter by sponsoring the Manual for a community organisation near you. Every contribution helps us to continue updating and improving our legal information, year after year.

Donate Become a Supporter

Find the Answer to your Legal Question

back to top