Sending controversial sheikhs into prisons to deliver speeches and "re-teach" Islam is the only way to address the risk of radicalisation behind bars, Australia's first terrorism detainee says.
Parramatta man Zaky Mallah, who was jailed in 2003 under anti-terrorism laws, said deradicalisation programs in prisons were "ineffective and a waste of money" and the only option was to call on former radical preachers to "correct the misconceptions".
"Salafi leaders started this 'call for jihad' in Australia in the mid-'90s and now we are stuck with the radicals that these imams have created," he said. "These leaders are the only hope we have right now."
Fairfax reported on Thursday that recruitment to Islam was active inside NSW jails and Corrective Services was co-operating with the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation to crack down on the radicalisation of inmates.
Mr Mallah said many of the headline-grabbing sheikhs of the 1990s, including Feiz Mohammad and Jamil El Biza, have become moderate in the past few years but the jihad rhetoric has stuck with their former followers and students.
"These leaders need to be permitted into the prison system, be on the patrol to speak to these inmates to get them rethinking on their ideology," he said. "If they can't change these radicals, then no one can. Not ASIO, not the Feds, and no 'program'."
Mr Mallah claims he converted 12 inmates to Islam during his two-year stint in Goulburn and Silverwater jails. He said he had "no idea" where they were now.
"Radical inmates talk the talk; I doubt they will walk the walk upon their release," he said. "Most will be on heavy parole and most just want to get on with their life."
The Australian National Imams Council is preparing to send volunteer imams into jails for Friday prayers.
Council secretary Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman told a Corrective Services-sponsored conference last month that radicalisation exists in prisons because "emotions are very high and they have this sentiment of being oppressed by the authorities".
He said the only way to counter-attack it was to have imams visit prisons "to try to put some sense into their minds".
Corrective Services NSW has 34 chaplains, including two Muslim chaplains, who provide spiritual care to inmates in about 30 jails. Sheikhs and imams also visit Friday prayers in some jails.
A spokesman for Corrective Services NSW said the prison chaplaincy service was considered a "global leader" and all chaplains were carefully selected.