Yoni Bashan and Linda Silmalis, Sunday Telegraph, March 8, 2015
Extreme high-risk inmates charged with terror offences will be banned from speaking Arabic during visits and phone calls in SuperMax.
From today, 13 inmates classified as “Extreme High Risk Restricted” will be forced to speak English when communicating with the outside.
Letters will also be required to be written in English under the new restrictions at SuperMax, which is housed within Goulburn jail.
It follows a call by State Attorney General Brad Hazzard to increase the number of moderate imams working behind bars to prevent radicalisation of Muslim inmates and inmates who convert.
Mr Hazzard said he had ordered the restrictions as a response to the nation’s heightened terror climate.
During visits, prison officers will stand within earshot of inmates and record their conversations, with the power to eject visitors if Arabic or other languages are spoken.
Mr Hazzard said the initiative was prompted by an operational review that had revealed vulnerabilities.
“One of the issues that came out of that process was that some of these people, these high-risk inmates, were conducting their discussions in Arabic, or at least not English,” Mr Hazzard said.
“This clearly needed looking at and action, in my view.”
Some prison officers believe there is an increasing number of inmates converting to Islam, based on the number of requests to change their diet from Western meals to halal.
On Monday, staff at Long Bay jail received four applications from “young, white males” seeking to change their diet, an officer said.
Records show that among the 13 would be Omarjan Azari, 22, who was arrested in September and charged over an alleged plot to kill a random member of the public in the name of Islamic State.
Mohammad Kiad, 25, and Omar al-Kutobi, 24, are also in SuperMax on terrorism charges.
Another priority was the recruitment of moderate imams and Muslim chaplains in jails, Mr Hazzard said. At a meeting of Corrective Service officers last month, a senior departmental official reportedly told the group that there had been “some concerns” at the teachings of some Muslim chaplains within the jails.
An officer present at the meeting said: “(The official) said an imam would be visiting prisons to lead prayer sessions, and that they would be held in English, not Arabic.”
Mr Hazzard said he had asked the department to “work as energetically as possible” to recruit imams with a sense of “moderation and decency” to service prisoners’ needs.
Between 9 and 10 per cent of NSW inmates are Muslim, compared with less than 3 per cent of the ordinary population.
Until recently, only Bassam Hamzy, the founder of the street gang Brothers For Life, was given the extreme high-risk classification and banned from speaking Arabic.
Mr Hazzard said in rare cases the Corrective Services Commissioner could use his discretion to allow inmates to speak other languages provided an immediate translation was supplied, for example if an inmate was speaking with his 90-year-old grandmother who spoke no English.
“We don’t want to create a situation where they feel there’s no sense of humanity, because there will be,” Mr Hazzard said.
“But they have to understand the people they’re visiting have put our community at risk. There has to be some clear boundaries and rules.”
Stricter visitor vetting procedures would also be applied, a reaction to previous breaches at SuperMax, including an alleged bid by Hamzy to communicate with people outside the prison via a legal secretary.
Such visits remain protected by legal privilege, meaning documents passed between visitors and prisoners cannot be examined by authorities.