Deaths in custody

When a person in prison dies we make arrangements taking into account the cultural, religious and spiritual beliefs of the deceased.

After a death

Immediately after a death the prison doctor is notified and prison management inform the police, the coroner and Corrections national office.

Corrections staff secures the scene for investigation.

Police investigate the scene and are responsible for removing the body for an autopsy.

The police also notify next of kin and provide support services to the deceased's family if needed.

Funeral or tangi arrangements

Each prison has a contact list of cultural, religious and spiritual support volunteers who can help carry out the beliefs of the deceased, his/her family/whanau and others (including staff).

The body is taken for an autopsy. Afterwards the body is released to the family.

Property of the deceased

Corrections will identify, secure and store the deceased person's personal belongings for up to three months (and may be held longer in exceptional circumstances).

The deceased’s designated contact person, next of kin or the executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate will be contacted to discuss collection of personal belongings from the prison. Alternative arrangement can be made with the prison to have the deceased’s personal belongings couriered to a nominated address. Courier costs will be met by Corrections.

Memorial services

In some cases a memorial service for the deceased is held at the prison, which is organised by the prison chaplain and the Area Adviser Maori. If asked, they can arrange to have the deceased’s cell blessed by the appropriate people.

Sometimes family or friends may wish to see the place of death. Where possible the prison director will allow such a visit.


If there are criminal circumstances surrounding a death, police do their own investigation.

Every death is investigated by the coroner as well as an inspector of Corrections. The prison may also carry out an internal investigation.

If the death was a workplace accident the Department of Labour will also investigate the incident.

The family of the deceased will generally be contacted by an investigation team to make enquiries about any issues they have. Corrections is committed to ensuring all investigations are thorough and carried out with integrity and respect to everyone involved.

The coroner's inquest

The coroner is an independent judicial officer whose role is to enquire into the cause of death.

After hearing all the evidence at an inquest the coroner will make a finding as to the cause of death, the circumstances of the death and any recommendations.

Read more about what happens when a death is referred to the coroner on the Coronial Services website.

Role of the Ombudsman

Staff from the Office of the Ombudsman make regular visits to prisons and provide independent oversight on incidents and complaints.

After the coroner’s investigation has been completed, the Ombudsman will examine the Inspector of Corrections report. They either confirm that the inspector's investigation was carried out thoroughly and fairly, or make any additional recommendations they consider are necessary. They may conduct their own independent investigation.

Families of the deceased can contact the Ombudsman at any time with any concerns.