The scheme, to be piloted at Nottingham Prison, is an attempt to shield paedophiles, often "named and shamed" by national and local media, from parents around the country who have objected to resettlement of notorious offenders in their communities.
The Prison Service, with the backing of the Home Office, instead will offer serious sex offenders the opportunity to live as free men inside specially converted flats within prison grounds.
Although most of the details are still being worked on, it is believed the men will have their own keys and be able to come and go as they please, subject to a special contract or tenancy agreement, which entails supervision by designated prison officers.
The project will initially entail the conversion of offices at Nottingham jail into three ground floor flats complete with televisions, radios, kitchens and shared bathrooms.
The ex-prisoners will not be allowed guests and details are still being worked on as to how much freedom they will be allowed. Prison Service officials said that the paramount concern was security and that steps would be taken to prevent the men bringing in proscribed or illegal material such as pornography or drugs. One of the advantages of the scheme would be the relative ease of monitoring the paedophiles by probation officers and the access to support services they would have to prevent them re- offending.
The scheme has been approved by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, and Martin Narey, head of the Prison Service. The cost of converting the flats has not been disclosed, nor has the Prison Service said how much rent the freed men will be liable to pay.
A Prison Service spokesman said last night: "Office accommodation at HMP Nottingham is in the process of being converted into living accommodation available to house high-risk offenders and ex-offenders; anyone who may pose a risk to the community."
The Prison Service last night declined to say who would be the first tenants but Nottingham Prison, just 150 yards from a residential area with a school, is believed to be gearing up to receive Lennie Smith a member of the Robert Oliver child sex murder gang. Smith is due to arrive next month after release on licence from Wakefield Prison where he has served six years of a 10-year sentence for attacks on a six-year-old boy.