A prison worker told a group of fresh-faced and eager volunteers he didn't like the term "inmates" and liked to call prisoners "play buddies".
The Serco staff member copped a reminder of standards expected inside prisons after making the comment -- and cost the private-prison operator a stern reminder from the Department of Corrections about behaviour.
One of those at an induction session for volunteers at the new Wiri prison was astonished to hear the Serco staffer's casual reference.
The person said the session started with those attending being told not to believe anything in the media that was said about Serco. There were "a number of other peculiarities", said the person, but "the standout oddity was just after he had referred to the prisoners as "inmates".
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"Before using the term a second time, he told us, in all seriousness, that he did not like the term 'inmate', but preferred to refer to them as his 'play buddies', which he did."
Serco's operations director, Scott McNairn, said all staff and volunteers were expected to treat the prisoners as individuals, use names if they knew them and treat them with respect.
"These comments, as reported, are disappointing and do not meet the high standards we expect of our people. Staff will be reminded of their obligation to act professionally and respectfully at all times."
Corrections' northern regional commissioner, Jeanette Burns, said that when speaking to the public, prison staff were expected to "uphold standards of good taste and professional conduct".
"In this case Serco has reminded staff to act professionally and respectfully at all times. Corrections expects the highest standards of behaviour from its staff and any breach of the Code of Conduct is taken very seriously."
It comes as 3News revealed the private-prison operator had taken a tumble down prison rankings after revelations of a "fight club" operating inside Mt Eden Prison. The drop in rankings has cost Serco its $325,000 performance bonus, on top of previous penalties.