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Prisoner's rights

Health and disability

Ongoing medical care while in prison

Do I have the right to see a doctor in prison?

Corrections Act 2004, ss 19A, 20, 75; Corrections Regulations, regs 71, 73

Yes. You have the right to get medical care, free of charge. Every prison must have enough doctors to make sure that the prisoners’ medical needs are met. The standard of health care inside prison should be similar to what’s available for people outside prison.

Every prison must have a health centre for medical checks and emergency treatment. The health centre must be open at all times for medical emergencies. All medical examinations should take place at the health centre, unless your condition means this isn’t possible.

If you want to see a nurse or doctor you should tell the PCO for your unit. You’ll need to fill out a form for this, unless it’s a medical emergency, in which case you’ll be taken over to the medical unit straightaway.

Can the prison refuse permission for me to see a doctor?

They can’t refuse if your request is reasonable.

If you don’t think your medical needs are being met, you should inform the manager of the health centre or the prison manager. You can also speak to a Community Law Centre, a lawyer, or local Health and Disability Advocate.

Can I ask to see a doctor of the same gender as me?

Yes. If you ask for a doctor of the same gender one will be assigned to you if possible.

Can I see my own doctor?

Corrections Regulations 2005, reg 77

If you get permission from the prison manager you can see your own doctor. However, you’ll have to pay for this treatment yourself.

Will I have to pay for medical care in prison?

Corrections Act 2004, s 75

Treatment from the prison’s health centre is free. The prison health centre will be able to take care of most of your medical and health needs.

What if I need medical care that the prison health centre can’t provide?

Corrections Regulations 2005, reg 77

If you need special care that can’t be given in prison, and you agree to receive it, the prison medical staff will arrange for you to see a specialist outside the prison. If this is through the public health system, you won’t have to pay for this specialist care.

An escort and appropriate security will be arranged for you. The escort takes the necessary paperwork with them to the outside specialist.

If you’re admitted to hospital outside the prison your next of kin will be told (unless you ask that they not be told).

For the purposes of parole and release, any time that you’re held in hospital outside prison counts as time in prison.

Do I have the right to have painkillers if I’m injured or in pain?

Yes. You have the right to receive medical treatment of a standard similar to what people outside the prison can get. This includes pain relief medication when you need it. Panadol is available from the prison officers in your unit. For stronger pain relief you’ll need to go through the prison medical staff for this.

Can I complain about the medical treatment I have (or haven’t) received?

Yes. You should start by talking to your PCO, and if you’re not satisfied with the response you can complain to the prison manager. If you need to complain to an official outside the prison, you can complain to the Health and Disability Commissioner.

See “Making complaints about your treatment

Can I be forced to have a medical examination or medical treatment?

New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, s 11; Health Act 1956, ss 70, 88

You can be required to have an examination, or to receive treatment, to assess whether you have an infectious disease or to prevent the spread of infection in the prison.

In certain cases you can be required to have assessments and treatment for mental health issues

See the section on “Mental health

What happens to my health information when I’m released from prison?

You’ll be given a summary of your health information and referred to a doctor or health centre outside prison if you need care or treatment. If necessary, you’ll be given a medical certificate to support your application for a benefit (for example, if you’ll be applying for the Supported Living Payment – which used to be the Invalid’s Benefit).

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Health and disability

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 laglaw@wclc.org.nz for your free copy

Buy Lag Law: Prisoner's Rights

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