Child safety concerns leads NZ prisons to introduce visitor approval process

A visitors area in Rimutaka Prison, Upper Hutt.
JARED NICOLL

A visitors area in Rimutaka Prison, Upper Hutt.

Rules surrounding children visiting prisoners will be tightened around the country following safety concerns.

From September 1, all child visitors will have to be approved before they can visit a prison. It was previously up to parents, caregivers and guardians to decide whether it was appropriate to bring someone under 16 to prison.

Some prisoners, such as those with convictions for hurting children, may have restrictions placed on the contact they have with child visitors.

Corrections Department service development deputy chief executive Jo Field said applications will be assessed on a case by case basis.

"To do that we need to know who the children are and how they are connected to the prisoner they are visiting.

The application process for a child will be similar to that for adults: Prisoners typically send a private visitor application form to any person they would like visits from. 

The forms typically ask their name, date of birth, relationship to the prisoner, and any criminal history.

The visitor completes the form and sends it back to the prison for approval. Child visitor application forms can be sent to the child's guardian to complete on their behalf.

"One of the key benefits of the work we are doing in requiring child visitors to be approved will be robust data on the number of children visiting prisoners, giving us the ability to reliably report on this information."

Deputy national commissioner Rachel Leota said the primary motive for the new rules was child safety.

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"The changes will also give us a consistent approach across all prisons so that prisoners and visitors can expect the same treatment wherever they are.

"Knowing who the children are and how they are connected to the prisoner they are visiting plays a key role in this.

"It is also important to ensure that the child's legal guardian has given permission for the visit and if necessary make appropriate arrangements so that visits are safe and beneficial to all parties."

Restrictions on visits to prisons typically involve the level of contact allowed such as being restricted to seeing specific children only or by specific methods only such as letters, phone calls or visiting booths.

 - Stuff

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