C.01 Prisoner external communication and mail correspondence

Mail to and from prisoners and email to prisoners is managed both to ensure that the Department meets it legal requirements and to restrict the likelihood of illegal activity.

The daily processing (opening, examining, and reading) of mail at a prison site is the responsibility of dedicated local or site-based staff members appropriately authorised by their respective prison director, most commonly local administration staff whose core responsibilities include the processing of mail.

Staff processing prisoner mail must refer to C.01.Res.05 Types of contact restrictions during mail processing.

In any situation where a member of staff believes that a child or young person is at risk of serious danger then steps should be taken to bring these concerns to the attention of Oranga Tamariki. This applies whether or not there is a protection or restraining order in force. Refer to C.01.Res.06 Safeguarding children and young persons during contact for further information.

Prisoner mail criteria

  1. Prisoner communication is managed in a way that facilitates approved communication and restricts the likelihood of illegal activity.
  2. Prisoners' rights and responsibilities in relation to external communication are explained to them as part of their induction.
  3. Each prison has written procedures on the collection and delivery of mail.
  4. As far as practicable in the circumstances, officers authorised by the prison director to deal with prisoners' mail must take the following considerations into account when dealing with any mail to or from a prisoner:
    1. the need to protect the privacy of prisoners and their correspondents
    2. the benefits to prisoners of maintaining contact with persons and organisations outside the prison.
    3. the need to maintain the security and order of the prison
    4. the need to prevent the commission of offence
    5. the need to ensure the safety of any person
    6. the need to prevent the entry of unauthorised items into the prison
    7. the interests of victims
    8. the potential impacts of the written material on persons beyond the intended recipient, including the potential for the sharing and publication of the material.
    9. The potential for messages to be disseminated through coded references.
  5. A prisoner who has been identified as a named respondent in any contact restriction will not be permitted to send mail unless the contact restriction allow contact via correspondence.
  6. Otherwise a prisoner may send and receive as much mail as the prisoner wishes.
  7. Each prison must maintain a register of withheld and copied mail using the template C.01.Res.04 Withheld / Copied Mail Register.
  8. Any mail withheld from being delivered to a prisoner, or being withheld from being sent by a prisoner, must be returned to the sender unless it is to be forwarded to an enforcement officer.
  9. Mail that is withheld from being sent out by a prisoner must be returned to the prisoner's property except where a minor adjustment to the letter content has been discussed and agreed to by the prisoner in order for it to be sent.

C.01.01 Receiving prisoner mail

  1. All mail to and from a prisoner detained in a prison must be directed through the prison director.
  2. On receipt prisoners' inward mail is held securely and distributed each working day, unless:
    1. there are unavoidable operational delays in opening and reading the mail
    2. the mail is sent out for translation or legal advice, or
    3. the mail is withheld.

C.01.02 Opening and examining prisoner mail

  1. Any mail to or from a prisoner that is to be opened or examined for unauthorised items must be opened or examined in the presence of another staff member.
  2. Gloves must be worn by staff at all times when opening mail.
  3. If staff are concerned with the content of the mail (e.g. they discover wires, or a suspicious powder), they must comply with the instructions set out in C.01.Res.01 Suspicious mail / package / device, and C.01.Res.02 Suspicious substance / powder.
  4. Items enclosed with mail are dealt with according to the relevant procedures for prisoner property and trust accounts, including recording phone cards in the inward remittance book, and prisoners are informed of any enclosures.
  5. Any unauthorised items found in mail will be withheld.

C.01.03 Reading and withholding prisoner mail

  1. All mail to or from a prisoner may only be read by the prison director or a person authorised by the prison director in writing, to read the correspondence for the purpose of determining whether it may be withheld.
  2. The prison director (or authorised person) may withhold mail between a prisoner and any person for any of the following reasons pursuant to section 108 of the Corrections Act 2004:
    1. The prisoner or the other person asks the prison director to do so; or
    2. The other person is under 16 years, and his or her guardian asks the prison director to do so; or
    3. The other person is a prisoner, and neither prisoner has notified the prison director of his or her intention to correspond; or
    4. the prison director believes on reasonable grounds that the correspondence may, directly or indirectly;-
      1. threaten or intimidate any person; or
      2. endanger the safety or welfare of any person; or
      3. pose a threat to the security of the prison; or
      4. promote or encourage the commission of an offence, or involve, or facilitate the commission or possible commission of, an offence; or
      5. prejudice the maintenance of the law (including the prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution, and punishment of offences, and the right to a fair trial); or
      6. breach an order or direction of any court or constitute contempt of court.
      7. promote or encourage hostility towards any group of persons on 1 or more of the grounds specified in section 21 of the Human Rights Act 1993.
  3. For the purpose of determining whether there are grounds to withhold prisoner mail, the prison director (or authorised person) may have any correspondence translated into English or Te Reo Māori.
  4. If mail or an unauthorised item found in any mail is withheld, the prisoner to or from whom the mail was directed must be informed that the mail or item, as the case may be, has been withheld, unless it is to be forwarded to an enforcement officer.
  5. The prisoner sending or receiving mail that has been withheld must be informed in writing using form C.01.03.Form.02 Written advice to prisoner of withheld mail. A copy of the form must be placed on the prisoner’s file.
    1. Mail being withheld from sending out must be placed in the prisoner's property and the prisoner issued with the completed C.01.03.Form.02 Written advice to prisoner of withheld mail (unless the prisoner agrees to making minor adjustments, see paragraph 8 below).
    2. Mail withheld from being sent in must be returned to the sender after the prisoner has been issued C.01.03.Form.02 Written advice to prisoner of withheld mail. Mail that cannot be returned to the sender (e.g. due to no return address) must be placed in a secure file (not the prisoner file) and not issued to the prisoner, even on release.
  6. An enforcement officer:
    1. means a person who is a constable, or who -
      1. is an officer or employee of the Public Service (as defined in section 2 of the State Sector Act 1988) or a local authority; and
      2. is acting in the course of his or her official duties (being duties consisting of or including the detection, investigation, or prosecution of offences); but
    2. does not include any 'officer' or staff member employed by the Department (e.g. such as a member of the Corrections Intelligence or Tactical Operations teams).
  7. The sender of withheld mail is entitled to have the letter back. A letter remains the personal information to the person who wrote it. If the Police were to prosecute because of the content of withheld mail, the defendant would be given a copy as part of the criminal disclosure.
  8. Mail that is withheld from being sent out by a prisoner must be returned to the prisoner's property except where a minor adjustment to the letter content has been discussed and agreed to by the prisoner in order for it to be sent.

C.01.04 Restrictions on opening, reading or withholding certain mail

  1. No staff member or authorised person may open, read or withhold any mail that has been sent or received from:
    1. an Official Agency which, for the purposes of this section, relates only to mail from an inspector of corrections, monitor, security monitor, Visiting Justice, Ombudsman, the Commissioner for Children, the Health and Disability Commissioner, the Human Rights Commission, the Police Complaints Authority or Privacy Commissioner who are acting in their statutory roles, or
    2. a member of Parliament.
  2. Mail to a prisoner received from any of the above named persons can be opened and read if it is not accompanied by a letter to the prison director (or PCO) advising that the sender is acting in their official capacity.

C.01.05 Restrictions on mail between prisoners and legal advisors

  1. No mail between a prisoner and his or her legal adviser may contain any item other than correspondence or documents relating to the prisoner's affairs unless the prisoner and legal adviser first obtain the prison director's written approval.
  2. No mail between a prisoner and a legal adviser may be opened, read or withheld except under the following circumstances.
  3. The mail may be opened by a staff member in the presence of another staff member if it is:
    1. from a prisoner and not addressed to the prisoner’s legal adviser at their business address, or
    2. from the legal adviser but not accompanied by a letter to the prison director stating that they are acting in a professional capacity and the correspondence relates to the prisoner’s legal affairs.
  4. The mail may be examined and read by the prison director (or authorised delegate), in the presence of the prisoner, if it appears to contain an unauthorised item or any document not related to the prisoner’s legal affairs. The prison director (or authorised delegate) must examine the mail in the prisoner's presence and must stop reading any correspondence or document, or any part of the correspondence or document, as soon as it appears to be related to the prisoner’s legal affairs.
  5. Any correspondence, document or unauthorised item received in the mail from a prisoner’s legal adviser may be withheld from the prisoner if it does not relate to the prisoner’s legal affairs (and the prison director has not given written approval for the prisoner or legal adviser to send correspondence, documents or items of that kind). If the prison director has given such approval, any correspondence or document contained in mail between a prisoner and the prisoner's legal adviser that appears, to the prison director, not to be related to the prisoner's legal affairs, may be withheld for the reasons listed in section 108(1) of the Corrections Act 2004 (see C.01.03 Reading and withholding prisoner mail).

C.01.06 Restrictions on disclosure of prisoner mail

  1. An authorised person must not disclose any information obtained from correspondence contained in any mail between a prisoner and another person unless:
    1. the disclosure is made to another authorised officer for the purpose of determining whether:
      1. mail may be withheld under section 108(1) of the Corrections Act 2004, see C.01.03 Reading and withholding prisoner mail, or
      2. mail that is withheld under section 108(1) of the Corrections Act 2004, should be forwarded to an enforcement officer (e.g. Police) under section 108(2) of the Corrections Act 2004, or
      3. the disclosure is required by the any enactment or rule of law.
    2. the authorised person believes, on reasonable grounds, that the disclosure is necessary:
      1. to avoid prejudice to the maintenance of the law by a public sector agency (within the meaning of the Privacy Act 1993), including the prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution, and punishment of offences, or
      2. for the conduct of proceedings (already commenced or reasonably in contemplation) before a court or tribunal, or
      3. to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to public health, public safety, or the life or health of any person, or
      4. the disclosure has been authorised by the Privacy Commissioner under section 54(1) of the Privacy Act 1993, or
    3. the disclosure is required by any enactment or rule of law.
  2. Disclosures made in 1. b i above must meet the requirements under Principle 11 (Limits on disclosure of personal information) of the Privacy Act 1993. Staff should also note that disclosing information under 1. b i above does not empower any person to copy, withhold or interfere with the delivery of that mail.

C.01.07 Restrictions on copying prisoner mail

  1. No correspondence to or from a prisoner may be copied unless it is:
    1. correspondence between the prisoner and the Department; or
    2. for the purpose of sending the copy to an enforcement officer, in circumstances where the prison director believes on reasonable grounds that it is likely to promote or encourage the commission of an offence or involve, or facilitate the commission or possible commission of, an offence; or
    3. copied for the purpose of obtaining legal advice to determine whether:
      1. there are sufficient grounds to withhold the correspondence, or
      2. there are circumstances where the correspondence is likely to promote or encourage the commission of an offense or involve, or facilitate the commission or possible commission of, an offence.

C.01.08 Sending prisoner mail

  1. Reasonable quantities of materials for writing letters must be readily available to prisoners.
  2. The prison must pay the postage of up to 3 standard letters per week sent by each prisoner within New Zealand, and a further 3 standard letters to an inspector of corrections or an Ombudsman.
  3. The prison may pay the postage of any mail sent by a prisoner in excess of this limit if the prison director so decides.
  4. Prisoners can write letters in any language but an authorised person may have these translated into English or Te Reo Māori before distribution for the purpose of determining whether it may be withheld under section 108(1) of the Corrections Act 2004 (see C.01.03 Reading and withholding prisoner mail).
  5. Mail sent by a prisoner must have a stamp with the name and address of the prison endorsed on the back of all envelopes containing letters from a prisoner.
  6. Prisoners sending mail out must write their full name on the back of the envelope, if a prisoner is concerned about their name being on the back of the envelope they must write their full name on the inside flap of the envelope before handing the letter to staff.
  7. Mail returned to the prison unopened will be opened in the usual way and given back to the prisoner (check the inside flap of the envelope if the prisoners name is not written on the back).
  8. Prisoners' outward mail is collected, held securely and dispatched in accordance with local procedures.
  9. Prisoners subject to protection orders against them (respondents) are not permitted to write to the protected person (or their children) except (as per the Family Violence Act 2018 section 90-97) where the respondent has given their written consent, or where contact is:
    1. reasonably necessary in any emergency; or
    2. permitted under any order or written agreement relating to the role of providing day-to-day care for, or contact with, or custody of -
      1. any child (within the meaning of section 8 of the Care of Children Act 2004); or
      2. any child or young person (within the meaning of section 2 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989); or
    3. permitted under any special condition of the protection order; or
    4. necessary for the purposes of attending a family group conference (within the meaning of section 2 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989); or
    5. necessary to attend any proceeding (of any kind) in or before any court or person acting judicially, or to attend any other matter that is associated with such a proceeding and that is a matter that the parties to the proceeding jointly attend (for example, a restorative justice conference, or a settlement conference convened under section 46Q of the Care od Children Act 2004).
  10. When staff receive information that a contact restriction is in place an alert must be entered in IOMS and staff must take all practicable steps to prevent contact from occurring as per conditions of the restrictions (see C.01.Res.05 Types of contact restrictions).

C.01.09 Mail between prisoners

  1. No prisoner may send mail to any other prisoner without first notifying the prison director of their intention to correspond; the prison director will then notify the prison director of the recipient's prison.
  2. If a prisoner requests to correspond with another prisoner and advises that they do not know the location of that prisoner, then in that instance, and to assist staff in confirming the whereabouts of the other prisoner, the requesting prisoner should where possible provide the following information:
    1. full name "(any known aliases if known) of the prisoner with whom they wish to correspond, and
    2. prisoner’s date of birth (if known).
  3. Once the prisoner has provided the above information, staff must first obtain the approval of the prison director before IOMS is used to identify the location of the prisoner.
  4. Staff must advise the requesting prisoner that if the recipient prisoner does not consent to receiving mail, then the prisoner will be informed that their request could not be actioned. If the other prisoner consents then an address will be provided.
  5. Prisoners can write letters in any language but an authorised person may have these translated into English or Te Reo Māori before distribution for the purpose of determining whether it may be withheld under section 108(1) of the Corrections Act 2004 (see C.01.03 Reading and withholding prisoner mail).

C.01.10 Safeguarding children and young persons

  1. In any situation where a member of staff believes that a child or young person is at risk of serious danger then steps should be taken to bring these concerns to the attention of Oranga Tamariki. This applies whether or not there is a protection or restraining order in force. Refer to C.01.Res.06 Safeguarding children and young persons during contact for further information.