The Department of Corrections is rejecting a suggestion there is a "culture of cruelty" among prison officers following allegations they ignored an inmate's call for help.
The Coroner is holding an inquest into the death of Kerry Joll, who was found dead in his cell at Rimutaka Prison in May last year.
Roger Brooking, a drug and alcohol counsellor at the prison, says an inmate in a nearby cell told him Joll became sick and repeatedly called for help, but prison officers did nothing to help.
Mr Brooking, who has worked as a counsellor in Wellington for 12 years, says two other inmates have also given him matching accounts about the death.
He believes there is a negative culture among prison officers.
"It appears to me that there is a culture of cruelty and neglect whereby prison officers don't really care about what happens to prisoners - and they either ignore it, or they respond so slowly that by the time they do anything the prisoner's actually died."
Prison Reform Society president Peter Williams, QC, says he has heard of emergency calls being ignored and agrees there is a negative culture.
"Victimisation, teasing people, a lot of it comes from boredom - it breaks the monotony of what you might call rivalry going on between the warders and the prisoners, which can explode at any time into violence."
A spokesperson for Corrections says the allegations are unsubstantiated, but is unable to comment further while the death is being investigated.
The spokesperson said the department always compiles a report when an inmate dies.