Discipline and punishments inside prison

Use of force

Can the prison staff use force against me?

Corrections Act 2004, s 83; Corrections regulations 2005, reg 118

Yes, prison guards can use force to:

  • defend themselves against you (self-defence)
  • defend or protect another person against you
  • protect you from injury
  • stop you escaping from prison or to recapture you after you’ve escaped
  • stop you damaging property
  • stop you resisting a lawful order.

The prison staff must have good reason to believe that force is necessary. They can only use reasonable force.

If a prison guard uses force against you then it is your right to be examined by a doctor or nurse as soon as possible after the incident. You should speak to your PCO or the prison manager about this. If an examination is not arranged, you will need to escalate your complaint to someone outside the prison

See “Making complaints about your treatment

What is “reasonable” force?

What is reasonable force will depend on each situation. In general it means that the prison staff can’t use more force than is reasonably necessary in the particular situation.

What if the prison staff are provoking me?

Corrections Act 2004, s 84

Prison guards aren’t allowed to provoke you (deliberately offend or anger you). They can give you lawful orders and can give you information (like saying what the prison rules are), but they can’t deliberately act or speak in a way that’s likely to provoke you. If you feel that you’re being deliberately provoked you should make a complaint

See the chapter “Making complaints about your treatment”

If you’re not happy about a lawful order that a prison officer has given you, you still have to follow the order, but you can then lay a complaint about it.

Can the prison staff use weapons?

Corrections Act 2004, ss 85, 86; Corrections Regulations 2005, regs 120, 120A

In any situation where a prison officer is allowed to use force, they’re allowed to use non-lethal weapons, which means weapons that temporarily disable or incapacitate someone. Firearms cannot be used. Permitted non-lethal weapons include:

  • batons
  • pepper spray.

When can batons be used?

Corrections Regulations 2005, regs 121-123

Prison officers can’t normally carry batons in prison. They can only carry them when the prison manager has given permission for this because there’s a serious threat to prison security or to the safety of any person and using batons is the only effective way of stopping or lessening this threat.

When can pepper spray be used?

Corrections Regulations 2005, regs 123A-123C

Prison officers can’t normally carry pepper spray in prison. They can only carry it when the prison manager (or another prison officer with appropriate training) has given permission to use pepper spray because they have good reason to believe that using force is necessary. The pepper spray must be used in a way that minimises the pain or injury caused by the spray.

When can handcuffs and other restraints be used?

Corrections Act 2004, s 87; Corrections Regulations 2005, reg 124, Schedule 5

The prison staff can use mechanical restraints on you only in certain situations – this is explained below. Mechanical restraints can include:

  • handcuffs
  • disposable plastic handcuffs
  • waist restraints connected to handcuffs
  • torso restraints
  • head protectors
  • spit hoods.

Rules for when handcuffs can be used

Corrections Regulations 2005, reg 125, Schedule 5

Handcuffs can only be used when you’re being taken outside of the prison or when a prison officer is taking you somewhere within the prison and they have good reason to believe that handcuffs are necessary.

Plastic handcuffs can only be used in emergency situations and only if there are no metal handcuffs available. They must be continually checked to make sure they’re not cutting off your circulation and they must be replaced with metal handcuffs as soon as possible.

You can’t be handcuffed to:

  • a vehicle when you’re being transported
  • the grill in your cell.

Rules for when restraints other than handcuffs can be used

Corrections Regulations 2005, reg 124, Schedule 5

Prison staff must get permission from the prison manager before using tie-down beds, wrist bed restraints and torso restraints, unless there’s such an urgent need that there isn’t time to get permission first. Every time these restraints are used, this must be recorded and signed off by the prison manager.

Tie-down beds, wrist bed restraints, torso restraints and head protectors can only be used if allowed by a doctor.

Spit hoods can be used when there’s good reason to believe you may try to spit at or bite a prison officer, but only by prison officers who have specialist training in controlling and restraining prisoners. The hoods must be made of an open-mesh material that lets you see and breathe.

How can I complain if I believe excessive or unfair force has been used?

Corrections Act 2004, s 153; Corrections Regulations 2005, reg 159

Prison staff are guilty of a criminal offence if they excessive force against you. They should only use force if it’s necessary to control the situation (if you’re resisting for example) and they must only use as much force as is reasonably necessary in the particular situation.

To make a complaint about too much force, usually the first step is to complain to your PCO. If the PCO has been involved in the assault or you think you need to go to someone outside your unit, you should complain to the prison inspector or to the Ombudsman.

You also have the right to contact the police directly and lay a criminal complaint with them. But in practice it’s probably best to see if you can get some support and guidance from someone inside the prison first, by talking to a sympathetic prison officer or your PCO.

If you don’t believe your concerns are being acted on appropriately, don’t give up – contact a Community Law Centre in your area, or contact a lawyer and get some advice that way.

See “Making complaints about your treatment

If I think there’s CCTV footage of the excessive force, how can I get it?

When you write your complaint you should state that you believe the incident was caught on camera and you should ask to see the footage.

State clearly in your complaint where the incident happened, and draw a small diagram of the area and mark where the CCTV cameras are that would have caught the incident. Also state what the date and approximate time was. Make it very clear in your complaint that you want that footage kept, because it’s normally only kept for a limited time. Make your complaint early and quickly, and keep a copy of it for yourself (write it out twice if you have to, so that you have a copy to keep).

If you have a lawyer helping you it may be better for them to ask for the footage.

Do I have the right to have my injuries photographed if I’m assaulted?

It’s a good idea to get your injuries photographed as soon as possible. You can start by asking the prison medical staff or your PCO to arrange it – it’s best to make this request in writing. If they refuse to do it, keep a copy of your request and write down the reasons they gave you for their refusal.

You could also ask your lawyer to come out to the prison and photograph your injuries.

If I’m assaulted and then put in “the pound”, what should I do?

Phone your lawyer. Even when you’re in the pound you have the right to phone your lawyer, and you’re also entitled to make complaints to the prison inspector and the Ombudsman. You’re also entitled to see the medical staff and get medical treatment for any injuries.

Did this answer your question?

Discipline and punishments inside 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 laglaw@wclc.org.nz 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