Frequently Asked Questions

Prisoners’ rights

What rights do I have if I am in prison?

While prisoners no longer enjoy freedom of movement, they retain the majority of their human rights and can complain if they believe these rights have been breached.

In particular prisoners have the right to be treated with humanity, dignity and respect while in detention. For this reason there are a number of human rights standards in place to ensure people in detention are safe.

If I have a complaint about my treatment in prison what can I do?

There are a number of organisations which handle complaints dealing with the human rights of people who are arrested, imprisoned, or otherwise involved in the criminal justice system.

How can the Commission help?

The Commission can help in two ways:

  • help sort a problem directly, particularly if your complaint is linked to one of the grounds in the Human Rights Act such as race or disability
  • provide information about organisations which have  specific responsibilities for complaints about prisons.

Initial steps for you to take yourself: Use the internal prison complaints avenues provided by the prison you are in and/or the Inspector of Corrections. For more information about this: see the Department of Corrections information sheet on making a complaint.

Contact the Inspector of Corrections at Private Box 1206, Wellington or on free phone 0800 225 697.

Further steps

If internal complaints processes do not resolve your complaint, you should contact the Office of the Ombudsmen, which can investigate complaints about all government agencies including prisons. Phone the office on the prison complaints free phone at 0800 662 837 or the complaints free phone at 0800 802 602.

Human Rights standards

The New Zealand laws meant to protect the human rights of prisoners’ include:

  • Human Rights Act 1993 – This protects people from unlawful discrimination.
  • New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 – which protects the rights of people who have been arrested or detained and the rights of people charged with an offence. It also ensures the right to a fair trial and the right to justice
  • Crimes of Torture Act 1989 – This prohibits crimes of torture.
  • Corrections Act 2004 – This sets out the minimum entitlements [for prisoners] and also governs the running of prisons.

International human rights standards and guidelines meant to protect the human rights of prisoners’ include:

Organisations that could help

These organisations deal with other issues that might arise:

  • If your complaint relates to a privacy issue you should contact the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. For more in at PO Box 466, Auckland or free phone 0800 803 809 or at [email protected]. More information about the Office of the Privacy Commissioner is available at
  • If your complaint concerns police conduct you should contact the Independent Police Conduct Authority on free phone 0800 503 728 or at [email protected]. More information about the authority is available at
  • If your complaint is about court staff you should contact the Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for Courts, at PO Box 180, Wellington or on (04) 918 8800. More information is also available on the ministry’s website at
  • If your complaint concerns the conduct of a Judge you should contact the Judicial Conduct Commissioner at [email protected] or on free phone 0800 800 323.

Other organisations which may be able to help you with your complaint, or with information about your complaint, are:

For further information about your rights as a prisoner read: