Visiting prison under COVID-19
Updated 7 October 2020
We’re doing everything we can to keep COVID-19 out of prison while still allowing visits to people in our care.
Under Alert Level 1 masks and physical distancing at visits are no longer required.
Everyone will still be expected to comply with other COVID-19 precautions including thermal cameras, Ministry of Health screening questions, hand hygiene and contact tracing.
Please don’t visit if you are unwell.
If you visit
We are asking everyone coming into prison to take added safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- asking MOH screening questions
- physical distancing
- providing details to support contact tracing
- thermal imaging cameras to detect high temperatures
- hand hygiene on entry.
Thank you for helping us to keep everyone safe from COVID-19.
Other ways to stay in touch
You can still make contact with people in prison by phone, mail, email and, in some cases, video calling.
- We are providing people in prison with $5 phonecards so they can make more calls
- We have installed more phones for people in prison to call loved ones.
- You can email a prisoner. See the list of email addresses to send an email to someone in prison. (A staff member will print it out and give it to the person. They can reply by post.)
- Video calling is available in most prisons for eligible people to video call their approved visitors, subject to availability.
For more COVID-19 health advice and information call Healthline free on 0800 358 5453.
It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and has access to interpreters.
More about Visits
This section tells you more about how you can visit someone in prison and the process you will go through on the day of your visit.
It’s okay to feel nervous about visiting a prison. The security processes can be daunting at first, but they help keep everyone safe. Staff are happy to answer any questions. The most important thing is to come prepared and be honest.
You can call the prison you want to visit for more information. Phone numbers are on our locations page.
Locating a prisoner
Prison staff cannot tell you that an individual is in prison. They can pass on a message asking the prisoner to contact you if they choose.
We know this can be frustrating and worrying if you have a loved one in prison, but it helps to protect everyone’s privacy and safety. Read more about Locating a prisoner.
Applying to visit
It’s up to the person in prison to decide who they want to visit them.
The person in prison arranges to send an application form to the person they want to see, so that person can apply to become an approved visitor.
Note: The application forms are not available online.
You can ask prison staff to pass on a message to a prisoner that you want to visit them. The process is the same for people who are in prison whether they are on remand or if they have been sentenced.
People who want to visit first fill out a visitor application form, which is followed by security checks.The application process also applies to all children under 18.
If the visitor has a court order against the prisoner they will need to contact the prison directly for advice.
If the visitor is aged under 18, the Child Application form goes to the child’s guardian.
Read more about the process for Children Visiting Prisons.
Completing the application form
People aged 18 or over must complete an Adult Visitor application form.
The form asks for information such as name, date of birth, and criminal history and a copy of identification. This could be:
- Driver licence
- SuperGold card with photo
- 18+ card
- Student ID card
- Bank card with photo
The completed application form is sent back to the prison.
Staff assess the application and make a recommendation to the Prison Director. You’ll be notified in writing of their decision.
If you become an approved visitor, you must show the approval letter and suitable photo ID at each visit.
If your application is declined a deny approval notification is sent. This means you can’t enter a prison for a set period. You can appeal the decision and the detail about how to do this will be sent with your notification.
Reviewing a decision
Prisoners and visitors have the right to review a prison visit decision that has been declined or approved with conditions (Schedule 3A, Corrections Regulations 2005). If you want to review the decision you can contact prison staff and they will provide you with the Prison Visit Decision Review form to complete.
Booking a visit
Once you receive your approval letter you can book a visit.
Different prisons have different booking processes. In some prisons the visitor will book the visit, in others the prisoner will make the booking and let their visitor know by phone or mail.
Instructions about booking a visit may be included with your approval letter. If you have any questions please call the prison visits staff at the prison you want to visit.
All people in prison (except those serving a period of cell confinement on penalty grounds) are entitled to at least one visit each week for at least 30 minutes. Each prison determines how many visits a prisoner can have and how many visitors at each visit.
Visits must be booked in advance.
Visiting hours vary across all prisons and generally depend on which unit the person is in.
In some circumstances, special visits can be arranged, for example family visiting from overseas or the death of a loved one.
Arriving at prison
Prisons have a strict routing and it’s important to be on time.
Your vehicle may be searched by staff and a detector dog for contraband. If someone asks you to smuggle something into the prison for them, it is important you know that this is illegal and you can be arrested and prosecuted for doing it. If you feel pressured or threatened and you don’t want to do it – call the prison, Police or Crimestoppers for help.
Sometimes police help Corrections staff to carry out searches and they may also check a visitor’s driver licence and the warrant of fitness and registration for their vehicle. No animals are allowed at the prison – including in the car park so leave your pets at home.
All belongings should be locked in your vehicle. Some prisons have lockers for visitors to use.
Reporting to reception
On arrival at a prison reception or gatehouse, you will be asked to present your identification and visitor approval letter.
Staff check your name against the list of visitors they are expecting and give you a slip, sticker or wristband. Some prisons have a waiting area.
Searching and security
After checking in you will pass through a metal detector or be scanned to check for concealed items. Staff may also ask you to remove outer clothing so they can carry out the search (excludes underclothes). We'll also take your temperature using thermal cameras.
Any visitor belongings, including shoes, will be put through an x-ray machine. A dog handler and detector dog may also be used. If staff have reasonable grounds to believe someone has an unauthorised item, they will ask them to consent to a ‘rub down’ search.
A rub down search means a search of a clothed person. A corrections officer may do any or all of the following:
- Run or pat their hands over someone’s body (outside or inside clothing but not inside underclothing)
- Insert their hand inside any pockets or pouches in someone’s clothing (but not underclothing)
- Require someone to open their mouth; display the palms of their hands, display the soles of their feet or lift or rub their hair.
If a visitor does not consent to the rub down search their visit will be terminated and they may be prohibited form visiting the prison in future.
If we have reasonable grounds to believe that a visitor is carrying illegal drugs, then we have the right to detain them at the prison for up to four hours to that police can investigate.
The visit may be in the visiting room with other people, or in a booth.
The prisoner is likely to be wearing orange overalls.
Staff are present in the room and monitor the visit. Visitors can give the prisoner a hug and kiss when greeting them, and before leaving.
During a booth visit there is no contact between the visitor and the prisoner. This could be for several reasons, for example if the prisoner has had a positive drug test result.
During the visit we expect all visitors to maintain behaviour appropriate to a family-friendly environment. A visit can be terminated if a visitor:
- Behaves in a manner that is harmful, threatening, intimidating, indecent, or disruptive to the security and order of the prison.
- Fails to comply with the Corrections Act or Corrections Regulations or a lawful order given by an officer
- Refused to let themselves or their vehicle or possessions be searched
- Refused to pass through a metal detector.