Occupational deprivation is a concept which we are in the early stages of conceptualising and defining. However, that does not make it any less real to those who have experienced extended periods of occupational deprivation. This paper outlines an investigation into the occupational world of a group of inmates in one of New Zealand’s largest maximum security prisons. These inmates were part of a special unit as they were identified as having special needs. The project started in response to a request from the prison to establish an occupational therapy programme in the unit. Through further dialogue it became clear that there were more basic questions that needed to be addressed. What was required was an assessment of the occupational needs of the inmates and this was subsequently agreed to and contracted for. Occupational Needs Assessment Process The process of investigation included a time use survey, a review of current levels of occupational engagement of all inmates and an assessment of individual functional skills. Methodological strategies included participant observation, interviewing inmates and staff, reviewing documentation inclusive of policy guidelines, and analysing and interpreting individual assessment data. It was found that rigid policies and practices contributed to an environment in which deprivation from occupation was the norm, and occupational deprivation has historically been used as a form of punishment. © 1997, Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. All rights reserved.