A Rimutaka prison officer has been suspended on full pay, accused of having an affair with a violent criminal.
The female officer is one of five Rimutaka staff currently suspended two years after a spate of staff problems prompted a 15-month inquiry into corruption at the prison.
The latest episode also follows a police operation in June that led to the arrest of a senior prison manager for allegedly dealing in drugs to inmates at Rimutaka.
Prison sources say the female officer was suspended about two weeks ago after allegations of a liaison with a prisoner, which included spending hours alone with him in a cell and smuggling him a mobile phone.
They say the prisoner, whose crimes are understood to include a brutal bashing, was transferred to another prison months ago because of concerns about the relationship though the Corrections Department denies this.
A department manager has confirmed that an officer has been suspended, but has refused to confirm the nature of the allegations. Corrections Minister Judith Collins says she is aware of "serious allegations" about staff at the prison.
But here comes the real kicker:
One prison source said staff were initially too scared to report the officer's behaviour, but eventually it became too obvious to ignore.
"Late at night, she'd go into his cell and close the door. He'd come out of the shower block with a towel around him and go in there, and they'd be in there for up to two hours."
There had been another Corrections Department investigation months ago into the same matter, which had cleared the officer, the source said. She was suspected of smuggling in contraband, including a cellphone, which she then used to talk to the prisoner.
"She's actually talked to him on the cellphone at a staff function," the source said.
Staff were upset by the whole affair. "People are pissed off," the source said. "They're absolutely gutted with it. On the whole, 99 per cent of staff are good."
It begs the question: if indeed "People are pissed off,", why the heck did no-one do or say anything about it? Surely, extended one-to-one contact with an inmate in their cell is not a Standard Operating Procedure. We'd be interested to read Oswald Bastable's take on this one.