Home | Browse Topics | Prisoner's rights | Making complaints about your treatment | Complaints to the Ombudsman

Prisoner's rights

Making complaints about your treatment

Complaints to the Ombudsman

Who are the Ombudsman?

Corrections Act 2004, s 160; Ombudsmen Act 1975, s 13

The Ombudsman have broad powers to investigate things that have been done (or not done) by government departments and other public agencies and officials, like prison managers and staff. The Ombudsman are independent of the government – they report to Parliament as a whole, not just the government that is in power.

Complaining to the Ombudsman can be a relatively quick and effective way of getting some action to fix something you’re not happy about. If after investigating a complaint, the Ombudsman make a recommendation to a government agency about what should be done to fix a problem, these recommendations are usually accepted.

What can I complain to the Ombudsman about?

You can complain to the Ombudsman about any decision, or anything that’s been done or not done, by the prison management or by the Department of Corrections (the government department that runs the prison system), subject to some limitations.

How do I make a complaint to the Ombudsman?

Ombudsmen Act 1975, s 16

You can make a complaint by:

  • writing a letter to the Ombudsman
  • phoning the Ombudsman’s complaints number (0800 802 602), or
  • by making an appointment with a visiting representative from the Ombudsman’s office.

Can the Ombudsman refuse to investigate my complaint?

Ombudsmen Act 1975, s 17

Yes, the Ombudsman can refuse to investigate if:

  • you have not used the internal complaints process first (by making a complaint through the PC.01 process and, If necessary, to an Inspector of Corrections)
  • you already have an adequate remedy (that is, another way to address the problem) such as complaining to the Health and Disability Commissioner bout health concerns, to the Privacy Commissioner about privacy concerns or to the Independent Police Conduct Authority about police concerns
  • you have a right of appeal, on the merits of the case, to a Court or tribunal (Including the Visiting Justice)
  • you have known about the complaint for more than 12 months before you approached the Ombudsman
  • your complaint is considered to be trivial, frivolous or vexatious or not made in good faith – in other words, your complaint is about something extremely minor or has only been made to cause trouble, or you have some dishonest or improper motive in bringing the complaint.
  • you do not have a sufficient personal interest in the complaint.

What happens if the Ombudsman decide to investigate my complaint?

The Ombudsman may require you to provide more details about the complaint. If it seems that your complaint cannot be upheld, you will have a chance to comment before the Ombudsman’s investigation is finalised. The Ombudsman will advise you and the Department of Corrections of the outcome of the investigation. If the complaint is upheld, the Ombudsman may recommend an appropriate remedy.

Are the Ombudsman’s recommendations binding?

No, but recommendations are usually accepted.

If the Ombudsman’s recommendations aren’t acted on within a reasonable time, the Ombudsman can report the matter to the Prime Minister and then to Parliament.

Did this answer your question?

Making complaints about your treatment

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