Young mother pleads with Corrections to allow in-person prison visits

A young mother is appealing to Corrections to once again allow in-person family visits at some of our major prisons.

The father of her child hasn't been able to see his daughter face-to-face.

Some of the country's prisons haven't had visitors for over a year and a half because of staffing shortages.

Emily van Olffen knows people struggle to sympathise with criminals but she has a plea.

"People need to have some compassion. I understand that they're prisoners, I understand that they've done wrong but they are still people, you know, they hurt just how we hurt," she told Newshub.

Today the Kapiti Coast woman's a young, effectively single mum trying to do her best to raise a three-month-old daughter.

That's because her partner is in Rimutaka Prison, where, for 16 months, inmates have been deprived of their legal right to family visits.

"I try my best not to let these emotions get to me so much, but if he could see his daughter that would literally make me so happy and full. And I know it would just fill his cup for the rest of the time that he is in there," she said.

Van Olffen admits she isn't perfect and has convictions, but is trying to turn her family's life around and wants a connection between father and daughter, who last saw each other over video chat when the child was two-weeks-old.

"I think it's the mental impact that it takes on prisoners - the depression, the anxiety, not knowing when you are going to see your family again. That sort of stuff," she told Newshub.

Rimutaka is one of three prisons where in-person visits are not permitted due to staff shortages - it has 53 vacancies.

Springhill, south of Auckland, hasn't allowed them since November 2021, and Mt Eden not since August 2021.

In a statement, National Commissioner Leigh Marsh told Newshub he knows the situation is "extremely hard" for Rimutaka inmates. He didn't give a date, but said visits will resume as quickly as possible.

The Opposition said visits are vital.

"In terms of rehabilitation, probably the best thing that prisoners can get is having some outside human contact with family members and loved ones and that's the whole purpose of those visits," said National's corrections spokesman Mark Mitchell.

While video visits are allowed at Rimutaka, Corrections told Newshub it understands regular contact and support from family and friends has a positive effect on behaviour and mental health, while playing a key part in rehabilitation.

Visitation rights are protected by law, but Corrections said entitlements may be denied during emergencies or if security and health and safety is threatened.

"You've had the prison population reduce by 22 percent, which common sense would say it should be easier to facilitate prisoner visits but, in fact, the opposite has occurred," Mitchell said.

Van Olffen said she's speaking out for all those with loved ones inside.

"Everybody's human, everybody deserves the chance to be able to see their family," she said.

Those outside the wire left to plead their case.