Corrections launches meals for deals probe at prison

By Derek Cheng

The Corrections Department is investigating the latest claims of corruption at Auckland Prison, as new allegations emerge that inmates were bribed with food to do private work for prison staff.

The claims surround inmates working at the prison garage, which gives qualified prisoners the chance to work as a step towards rehabilitation.

Yesterday the Herald revealed claims by a former inmate, supported by another source, that inmates at the garage were bribed to work on private vehicles of prison staff, and made deals so they could service their own cars.

The inmate was attached to the garage for two years and said he witnessed staff giving inmates food as payment.

"Steaks, barbecue food, roasts, which were cooked in the garage, and they ate it in the garage."

Most of the work at the garage was legit, he said.

"But there was some staff getting either very friendly rates, or didn't seem to be paying at all.

"There's no question the [Corrections inmate employment] managers would have known about it."

The claims follow the suspension of four Corrections officers at the prison for allegedly using two inmates on an escorted work outing to work on their private homes.

Two of these officers were involved in the running of the prison garage, the former inmate said.

Claims of improper use of the garage have been rejected by Constable Garry Learmonth, the police liaison officer at the prison.

Corrections Minister Damien O'Connor said he was unaware of the details of the latest claims, but expected Corrections chief executive Barry Matthews to "investigate them fully".

Corrections had no comment yesterday when asked whether it would investigate the use of the garage, but changed its statement when told of the minister's comments.

"We are including inquiries into these alleged activities in our current investigations," it said.

National law and order spokesman Simon Power said the claims were serious and warranted an investigation.

"Corrections operates in a culture of denial. No matter how many examples or cases put in front of them which indicate the opposite, they continue to deny that these matters go on."

The National Party wants an inquiry into the department, which will be considered tomorrow by the law and order select committee.

"Obviously National supports an inquiry and we will continue to press for it," Mr Power said.

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