Searches and Seizures

When you enter the prison, all of your property will be taken from you and you will be strip searched.  If you refuse a strip search, a prison officer is allowed to use “reasonable force” to make you undergo the search.  A prison officer is not liable for injury or damage caused in using “reasonable force” in carrying out searches on you.

The Prison Manager can order prison officers to search any part of the prison for any reason and any person in the prison.  The search can also encompass the area around the prison grounds nearby the prison if the ‘security and good order’ of the prison is threatened, including people or their cars if they are in that area. Visitors should not bring any contraband (which includes alcohol or yeast products) in their cars if visiting you. Anything in the car of a visitor is considered to be introduced into the prison, even if it is just in the car park.  So, if someone had a pocket-knife under their seat, it may be considered that they have introduced a weapon into the prison.  Visitors’ cars do get searched so make sure your visitors know this rule.

Strip searches

You may be strip searched at any time if considered necessary for the safety or good order of the prison.  This might be before and after you have had a contact visit, after being in the community on leave or if required to undertake testing for drugs. In every strip search room there is a copy of the strip search procedure displayed on the wall.

The searches can be conducted by at least two officers, but not more than is necessary to conduct the search.  The officers conducting the strip search must be the same gender as you, unless the search is being conducted urgently. Searches must be conducted in a private setting and you must be provided with clothing to wear if any clothing is seized during the search. The Prison Manager must keep a record of the search in a register, including the reason for the search and any items seized in the search.

Cavity Searches

Strip searches are not to involve touching you or any internal cavity except where conducted by a doctor.  The cavity of your mouth is searched by visual inspection when you ‘open the mouth and lift the tongue’. As of January 2010 it is not a requirement of the Directors’ Instruction on searching (#1.5) that a prisoner is required to pull down their bottom lip, or pull up their top lip and pull out your cheeks. If you object to this extra search, which is the general practice, then you should refuse and ask to be shown “Directors’ Instruction No. 1.5 Searches and Patrols”.  Ask to see a Supervisor or a Manager (Governor) and ask them the same question.  But you need to keep in mind that objecting to any aspect of the strip search, even if the officers are going beyond their powers, might lead to the use of force by prison staff.

Your external anal cavity is searched by a visual inspection when you are directed to “bend-over-and-spread-em”. The external anal cavity is the space between the cheeks of your backside and your anus. You are required to pull the cheeks of your backside open until the officer conducting the search can inspect your anus.

“Random” strip searches

The Corrections Regulations 2009 say at r 70 (2) that random strip searches are not allowed, r 69 (2) – (4) says that strip searches should only be carried out if there are ‘reasonable grounds that a strip search is necessary for the security and good order of the prison’, and r 69 (7)(b) says that the reason for the strip search must be recorded. You are entitled to ask why you are being strip searched, so if they say it is a random search or refuse to say what reasonable grounds they are basing the suspicion on, you can refuse the search and ask to see a Supervisor or a Manager (Governor) and ask them the same questions. But again, you need to keep in mind that objecting to any aspect of a strip search, even if the officers are going beyond their powers, will possibly lead to the use of force by prison staff.

Visitors must submit to “formal searches” on entry to prisons and on request while in the prison if they want to remain in the prison.  A formal search is a search to detect the presence of drugs, weapons or metal articles through the use of a metal scanner or detector. The type of scanning currently used in the following prisons includes:

Port Phillip: Metal detector, bag and jacket x-ray, a pat-down scan and you are asked to pull out your pocket lining and show officers your shoe soles.  A hand-scan is used for identification.

Dame Phyllis Frost: Metal detector, bag and jacket x-ray.  Photo ID is used for identification.

Metropolitan Remand Centre: Metal detector, bag and jacket x-ray, ion detector, a pat-down scan and pocket and shoe search.  An iris-scan is used for identification.

Visitors should note that ion detectors may be very sensitive to the presence of drugs, even when visitors have only been in contact with other people using drugs. Visitors should make sure they have freshly cleaned clothes to avoid any risk. Note that the ion detector is a cabinet like box with 2 solid sides with glass. You stand in the cabinet and the door closes behind you. The machine then blasts small amounts of high pressure air all around you.  This can give you a fright when it first happens so warn your visitors about it. The air in the cabinet is then tested by the machine. If it detects something an alarm will go off.

Any visitor found to be in possession of contraband, detected with any drug or explosive particles, or refusing to be searched, are usually asked to leave the prison. If asked to leave, the visitor is usually banned from visiting for 6 months.


If any contraband is discovered during a search, a prison officer may seize any item not permitted on the prison grounds.  This includes any item deemed to threaten the safety or good order of the prison, or any item you are not permitted to wear or possess. If any items of property are seized the prison officer must inform the Prison Manager and a register of any seizures is kept.  The items will then be given to the police, disposed of, or returned to the owner depending on what was seized.

Further information

This fact sheet contains general information only and is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice. If you would like advice regarding a specific problem please contact one of the legal services listed in contacts or contact the Law Institute of Victoria’s Legal Referral Service on 9607 9311.

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