C.01 Prisoner mail

Mail to and from 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.

C.01.01 Prisoner mail

  1. Prisoner mail 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.
    (See [C.03 Mail Monitoring] for further information.)
  6. Prisoners who have not been identified as a named respondent in any contact restrictions may send and receive as much mail as the prisoner wishes.
  7. All prisoner correspondence must be sent in a standard issue envelope.
    (See [C.01.11 Sending prisoner mail] for further information.)
  8. Each prison must maintain a register of withheld and copied mail using the template [C.01.Res.04 Withheld / Copied Mail Register].
  9. If prisoner mail is withheld from being sent out by the prisoner it must be placed in the prisoner’s property, the prisoner informed in writing using form [C.01.03.Form.02 Written advice to prisoner of withheld mail] and a copy of the form placed on the prisoner’s file unless:
    1. it is to be forwarded to an enforcement officer, or
    2. where a minor adjustment to the letter content has been discussed and the prisoner has change it in order for the letter to be sent out.
  10. If prisoner mail sent in for a prisoner is withheld from being delivered it must be returned to the sender after the prisoner has been informed in writing using form [C.01.Form.03 Written advice to prisoner of withheld mail] and a copy of the form placed on the prisoner’s file.
  11. If the prisoner mail cannot be returned to the sender (e.g. due to no return address) it must be placed in a secure file (not the prisoner file) and not issued to the prisoner, even on release.

C.01.02 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.01.03 Opening and examining prisoner mail

  1. All incoming and outgoing mail is to be opened, stored and processed in an enclosed room (see [C.01.Res.01 Mail Processing Requirements]).
    Watch Point

    A ‘do not enter’ sign must be placed on the door while mail is being processed stating that the mail processing is underway and people must not enter.

  2. Gloves must always be worn by staff when opening prisoner mail, thus ensuring that Corrections is compliant with the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and more importantly, that staff are safely protected.
  3. A minimum of two staff must open prisoner mail together.
  4. All staff can open mail and check it for unauthorised items in the presence of another staff member in order to witness any funds or inappropriate material being identified.
  5. It is recommended that all staff who open mail are also authorised to skim / read it. If they are not authorised, the must not skim / read the contents of mail.
  6. All mail must be searched (i.e. it must be x-rayed and searched by detector dogs where those tools are available on site.
    Watch Point

    If mail has not been x-ray and searched by a detector dog staff must also wear a mask when opening and examining prisoner mail.

  7. Prior to opening any mail an authorised person is to ensure that they have read and understood the action to take if they find Suspicious mail / package / device or Suspicious substance / powder.
    Watch Point

    If while opening mail staff become suspicious about the contents of mail staff must stop what they are doing and call CODE RED then evacuate the area and follow the Incident Response Flipchart for Suspicious Mail/Package/Device.

    If while opening mail staff suspect that the contents may contain a substance or a powder do not open or if opened leave it as it is and call CODE BLUE then follow the Incident Response Flipchart for Suspicious Substance/Powder.

C.01.04 Reading prisoner mail

  1. Prisoners are to be informed as part of their induction and at any time they may request, that their incoming and outgoing mail can be read in certain circumstances for the purposes of it being withheld. [C.01.Res.03 Mail monitoring notice] is to be issued to prisoners to inform them of this.
  2. All mail to or from a prisoner may only be read by the prison director or a person who has been authorised by the prison director in writing as described in the [C.01.Res.02 Authorisation table for mail].
  3. Mail is only to be read for the purpose of determining whether it may be withheld from being given to the prisoner or sent to the recipient (See [C.01.05 Withholding mail(incoming and outgoing)]).
  4. A prisoner’s mail may be subject to reading / monitoring for a specific purpose, e.g. the prison have suspicion or evidence that the prisoner may be attempting to introduce contraband, the prison may create a Mail Monitoring Alert.
    (See [C.03 Mail Monitoring] for further information.)
  5. If a prisoner is subject to monitoring by the National Prison Communications Team (NPCT), refer to [C.01.Res.10 High Profile Mail Monitoring] for the process.
  6. If mail is written in a foreign language, the prison director (or authorised person) may have the content of the mail translated into English or Te Reo Māori to enable staff to determine whether there are grounds to withhold the mail.
  7. If a staff member can competently translate the mail into English or Te Reo Māori, this staff member is not required to be authorised to read and disclose the content of the mail.
    Watch Point

    To read mail, staff must be authorised to do so by the prison director using [C.01.Form.02 Authorisation for staff to read prisoner mail].

    Reading means that staff are looking at the content of the mail and comprehend what is written.

    This means, if staff are ‘scanning’ the mail for key words, staff are still required to be authorised to read prisoner mail.

    If any concerns as to what may be contained in the envelope are raised, then the mail must be opened by the prisoner in the presence of staff so the item can be checked.

C.01.05 Withholding prisoner mail (incoming and outgoing)

  1. The starting point for all decisions is that the mail will not be withheld. Then, if there are grounds to withhold it, a decision is required as to whether withholding the mail is a justifiable limitation on a person’s (both the sender and recipients) right to freedom of expression under [section 14 Freedom of expression in the Bill of Rights Act 1990]:
    “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.”
  2. Along with the author and recipients right to freedom of expression, staff must keep in mind, where practicable, the general considerations relating to mail set out in [section 104 of the Corrections Act 2004], which include:
    1. The benefits to prisoners of maintaining contact with persons and organisations outside the prison.
    2. The interests of victims.
    3. The potential impacts of the written material on persons beyond the intended recipient, including the potential for the sharing and publication of the material.
    4. The need to maintain the security and order of the prison.
    5. The need to prevent the commission of offences.
    6. The need to ensure the safety of any person.
    7. The need to prevent the entry of unauthorised items.
    8. The potential for messaged to be disseminated through coded messages.
  3. After reading the contents of the mail, including any drawings or pictures and it provides a reason to be concerned or it does not seem ‘right’, the mail may be withheld in accordance with [section 108 of the Corrections Act 2004].
  4. For the purpose of determining whether there are grounds to withhold prisoner mail under [section 108(1) of the Corrections Act 2004] the prison director (or authorised person) may have the prisoner mail translated into English or Te Reo Māori (see [C.01.04 Reading prisoner mail]).
  5. Mail may be withheld from reaching its destination if any of the reasons outlined in [section 108 of the Corrections Act 2004] are met.
    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 (or deputy 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 (for example, a direction given under [section 168A (no-contact conditions if family violence offence defendant remanded in custody) of the Criminal Procedure Act 2011)] or constitute contempt of court; or
      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].
    Consideration

    The threshold for when you may withhold mail has recently been lowered. Instead of believing that the particular outcome is “likely” to occur, you only need to consider that it “may” occur.

    This change means that you must reasonably believe that the particular outcome could plausibly occur.

  6. Where mail meets one of the withholding grounds in [section 108 of the Corrections Act 2004], you must also consider that the reason to withhold is justifiable to limit the writer and the recipient’s freedom to receive and communicate information and opinions as detailed in paragraph one.
  7. To assist with a decision to withhold mail that contains sex talk, gang messages and extreme views, the Withholding Mail Supported Decision Framework – Extreme views, Sex Talk and Gang Messages provides key considerations that may be taken into account. The [C.01.Res.11 Withholding Mail Supported Decision Framework] provides guidance on how staff should make considerations when deciding to withhold and possible actions that can be taken.
  8. If mail is withheld or mail that contains an unauthorised item is withheld, the prisoner who sent the mail or was the intended recipient, must be informed that the mail or item, has been withheld unless it is to be forwarded to an enforcement officer, the prisoner does not need to be informed until any potential investigation has been completed.
    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).
  9. If prisoner mail is withheld from being sent out by the prisoner it must be placed in the prisoner’s property, the prisoner informed in writing using form [C.01.Form.03 Written advice to prisoner of withheld mail] and a copy of the form placed on the prisoner’s file unless:
    1. it is to be forwarded to an enforcement officer, or
    2. where a minor adjustment to the letter content has been discussed and the prisoner has change it in order for the letter to be sent out.
  10. If prisoner mail sent in for a prisoner is withheld from being delivered it must be returned to the sender after the prisoner has been informed in writing using form [C.01.Form.03 Written advice to prisoner of withheld mail] and a copy of the form placed on the prisoner’s file.
    1. The sender of the withheld mail is entitled to have the letter back. A letter remains the personal information to the person who wrote it.
    2. If the prisoner mail cannot be returned to the sender (e.g. due to no return address) it must be placed in a secure file (not the prisoner file) and not issued to the prisoner, even on release.
  11. 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.

C.01.06 Processing cash and phone cards received in the mail

  1. All cash and phonecards received via mail must be immediately entered in the [Trust Receipts Register] with:
    1. funds processed into IOMS and
    2. phonecards issued using that [Trust Receipts Register] and each phone card must be endorsed with the prisoner’s name in indelible ink
      1. If more than $60 worth of phone cards are received for a prisoner, the prisoner will be issued a maximum of $60 worth of phones cards and additional phone cards are to be sent to the Unit PCO to be issued at a later date.
      2. Only Telecom phone-cards which contain a microchip can be used in telephones within the public prison system.
    3. each day’s [Trust Receipts Register] is printed and signed by the person inputting the data as well as a witnessing staff member.
  2. Money must never be left unattended or in full view of other staff or the public.
  3. The hard copies of the ‘[Trust Receipts Register]’ are to be archived for 8 years.

C.01.07 Restrictions on opening, reading or withholding mail

  1. No staff member or authorised person may open, read or withhold any mail that has been sent or received from the following if the mail is accompanied with a letter stating that the sender is acting in their official capacity:
    1. an Official Agency such as:
      1. an inspector of corrections
      2. monitor
      3. security monitor
      4. Visiting Justice
      5. Ombudsman
      6. the Commissioner for Children
      7. the Health and Disability Commissioner
      8. the Human Rights Commission
      9. the Police Complaints Authority
      10. the Privacy Commissioner who are acting in their statutory roles, or
    2. a member of Parliament.
    Watch Point

    Ensure all mail going out to an Official Agency or a member of Parliament from a prisoner is checked via X-Ray (preferred) or Scanner prior to leaving the site.

    Remember that the mail must not be opened and read.

    If any concerns as to what may be contained in the envelope are raised, then the mail must be opened by the prisoner in the presence of staff so the item can be checked.

  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.01.08 Restrictions on mail between prisoners and legal advisors

  1. No mail between a prisoner and their 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. 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).
  3. 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.01.04 Reading prisoner mail] and [C.01.05 Withholding mail (incoming and outgoing)]).
  4. No mail between a prisoner and a legal adviser may be opened, read or withheld except under the following circumstances.
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
  5. 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.

C.01.09 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 staff member for the purpose of determining whether:
      1. mail may be withheld under [section 108(1) of the Corrections Act 2004], see [C.01.04 Reading prisoner mail] and [C.01.05 Withholding mail (incoming and outgoing)], 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 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 2020]), including the prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution, and punishment of offences, or
        Watch Point

        Disclosures must meet the requirements under [Principle 11 Limits on disclosure of personal information of the Privacy Act 2020]

        Disclosing information does not empower any person to copy, withhold or interfere with the delivery of that mail.

      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 30(1) of the Privacy Act 2020], or
    3. the disclosure is required by any enactment or rule of law.

C.01.10 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.01.11 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.01.04 Reading prisoner mail] and [C.01.05 Withholding mail (incoming and outgoing)]).
  5. Mail sent by a prisoner must be sent in a standard issue envelope.
  6. These envelopes take into consideration the interest of victims, and others who do not want to receive mail from a person in prison and ensures that the recipient is aware that the mail has come from a prison before they open it, and what their options are if they do not want to receive it.
  7. Standard issue envelopes are available to be ordered from SRM [Category S0004180 – Stationery] and are available in a range of sizes.
    1. The front left corner of the envelope must have the following return address:

      Mail sent from a prison
      PO Box 1206
      Wellington 6140

    2. The rear of the envelope must have the following statement:

      This mail is from a person in prison. If you do not want to receive this mail, please
      call 0800345 006 or email mailcomplaints@corrections.govt.nz, or return this mail
      to the sender. Please refer to our website (www.corrections.govt.nz) for further
      information on prisoner mail and options if you do not want to receive it.

  8. 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.
  9. Prior to the prisoner mail being placed in the outgoing mail, staff must check Mail Monitoring conditions to verify if the prisoner’s mail is required to be read by staff on site, to be sent to the National Prison Communications Team or whether the prisoner is subject to any request or orders that do not permit contact with individuals (or their children).
    1. A report can be accessed for these Mail Monitoring conditions in
      IOMS > Report Tree . PS National > Mail Monitoring.
      This report can be filter by region, prison and by unit.
    2. A list of all relevant alerts can be found in the following COBRA dashboard which is accessible from the Tatou page in the Key System box – (Dashboard 2.70 Offender Alerts | Tab CR Alerts choose ‘management site’ in the selection criteria).
  10. Prisoners who are respondents to protection orders against them, 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 an 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 purpose 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 of Children Act 2004]).
  11. When staff receive information that a contact restriction is in place an alert must be entered into 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]).
  12. To assist with record keeping, [C.01.Form.01 Confirmation by protected person of willingness to maintain contact] can be used as a written record of the consent can be used. If the restriction order requires to be varied by the Courts, a copy of the varied order must be provided.
  13. If there is no restriction on contact between the two individuals, the content of the letter may be opened and read to decide whether it should be withheld. This is to be done in accordance with relevant POM sections of opening, reading, examining and the restrictions on certain types of mail.
  14. Prisoners' outward mail is collected, held securely and dispatched in accordance with local procedures.
  15. Watch Point

    Ensure all mail going out to an Official Agency or a member of Parliament from a prisoner is checked via X-Ray (preferred) or Scanner prior to leaving the site.

    Remember that the mail must not be opened and read.

    If any concerns as to what may be contained in the envelope are raised, then the mail must be opened by the prisoner in the presence of staff so the item can be checked.

C.01.12 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.01.04 Reading prisoner mail] and [C.01.05 Withholding Mail (incoming and outgoing]).

C.01.13 Managing Returned Mail

  1. All prisoner correspondence must be sent in a standard issue envelope.
  2. Standard issue envelopes have a return address of PO Box 1206, Wellington 6140.
  3. All mail returned to the prison is managed as per [C.01.Res.08 Return to Sender Mail].
  4. When returned mail is received by the prison the prison must take action as advised by the National Prison Communications Team.