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Prisoner's rights

Discipline and punishments inside prison

Cell confinement and segregation

Overview

Cell confinement and segregation are different things: cell confinement is a punishment, whereas segregation (being separated from other prisoners) is something done to protect you or others.

What is cell confinement?

Corrections Act 2004, s 69, 70; Corrections Regulations 2005, reg 157, Schedule 6

This is where you’re confined to a cell as a punishment for 23 hours a day. Your punishment will last a set number of days, as decided by the Hearing Adjudicator or Visiting Justice who ordered the punishment. You’ll either be in your own cell or in a separate smaller unit (these smaller units are often called “the pound” or “separates”).

When you’re confined to a cell you must be provided with running water, lights and electricity.

You’ll be given at least one hour a day to shower and exercise. However, you’ll shower and exercise by yourself. While on cell confinement you won’t see any other prisoners, whether from the general prison population or other prisoners on cell confinement. The point of cell confinement is to keep you on your own.

How long can I be kept on cell confinement?

Corrections Act 2004, ss 133, 137

A Hearing Adjudicator can order you to be confined to your cell for up to seven days.

A Visiting Justice can order you to be confined to your cell for up to 15 days.

What is segregation?

Corrections Act 2004, s 57

“Segregation” is when you’re put in a cell away from the general prison population and your access to other prisoners is restricted.

In general, there are two broad types of segregation. First, there’s voluntary segregation where a prisoner feels threatened and decides they want to go on segregation. In these cases you sign up to go into voluntary segregation and you have to sign yourself off segregation. There are often large segregation units within prisons that prisoners stay in voluntarily for lengthy periods.

The second type is when you’re placed on segregation because you’re a threat to other prisoners in the general population. In these cases there are special time limits that don’t apply to voluntary segregation.

Within segregation units there are different types of segregation. If you’re a threat to others you won’t be placed in a segregation unit with vulnerable prisoners.

The different reasons for being placed on segregation are explained in more detail under the next heading.

When can I be segregated (separated) from other prisoners?

Corrections Act 2004, ss 58-60

You can be placed in segregation if:

  • you’re threatening the security or good order of the prison
  • you’re threatening the safety of another person
  • another prisoner has threatened your safety and you’ve asked for segregation or segregation is the only way to keep you safe, or
  • there’s concern for your physical or mental health and the health centre manager has approved segregation for you.

If you’re put in segregation, you must be given a written notice that gives the reason for this.

How often will I see the prison staff when I’m on segregation?

Corrections Regulations 2005, reg 56

You must be visited at least once a day by prison staff.

How long can I be kept in segregation?

Corrections Act 2004, ss 58-60

In all cases you can only be kept in segregation for as long as it’s necessary and there’s a good reason for you to be there. If there’s not a good reason for you to be in segregation you must be released back into the general prison population.

As well as that general rule, there are some specific limits on how many days you can be kept in segregation. Exactly how long depends on the reason why you’re in segregation.

When you’re in segregation for the security or good order of the prison or because the safety of another person is threatened:

  • you can’t be in segregation for longer than 14 days
  • only the chief executive of the Department of Corrections can order an extension past 14 days
  • if an extension is made, the chief executive must review the decision at least once a month
  • the extension can be for no longer than three months, unless a Visiting Justice orders a further extension.

When you’re in segregation because your safety is threatened (“protective custody”):

  • you can’t be in segregation for more than 14 days if it was the prison staff who decided you needed to be segregated for your own protection, but if it was you who asked for segregation you must be released as soon as you decide you no longer need it
  • only the chief executive of the Department of Corrections can make an extension past 14 days
  • if an extension is made, the chief executive must review the decision at least once every three months.

When you’re in segregation because the prison staff are concerned for your mental or physical health:

  • there’s no limit to how long you can be kept in segregation
  • you must be released as soon as the health centre manager states that there’s no good reason for you to be in segregation
  • a doctor must visit you at least once a day – or twice a day if there’s a risk of self-harm
  • a management plan must be made and must specify any restrictions on associating with other prisoners; the steps that are being taken to address the risk of self-harm; and any situations in which you can be strip searched
  • the doctor must tell the health centre manager as soon as there’s no longer any need for you to be segregated.

What are my rights when I’m in segregation?

Corrections Act 2004, s 69; Corrections Regulations 2005, reg 62, 63

As much as possible you must be kept under the same conditions as if you were not in segregation. How much this is possible will depend on the reasons for your segregation.

You must still be able to take part in activities that are part of your management plan and you must be able to have access to your things, unless this isn’t possible because of the reasons for your segregation (for example if you were segregated because of a risk of self-harm then you won’t be able to have any of your property that you could use to harm yourself).

Can I be segregated as a punishment?

No, you can’t be put in segregation as a punishment.

However, you can be confined to your cell as a punishment (“cell confinement”) – this is basically a 23-hour-a-day lockdown in your cell (see the start of this section above).

Is solitary confinement legal?

United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, rules 43-45

Cell confinement and segregation are forms of solitary confinement.

Under International law, solitary confinement is prohibited if it is for more than 15 days and it must not prevent you from having contact with family. It must only be used in exceptional cases as a last resort, for as short a time as possible.

There are groups in Aotearoa New Zealand arguing for solitary confinement to be made unlawful on the grounds that it amounts to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.

Cell confinement is of particular because it doesn’t appear to be used in exceptional circumstances as a last resort, or for as short a time as possible.

For further information on the campaign against solitary confinement you can contact People Against Prisons Aotearoa (the address is at the back of this book).

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Discipline and punishments inside prison

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