Courts are being urged by the Government and senior judiciary to lock up fewer low-level offenders and to release more remand prisoners on electronic tags in an attempt to deal with overcrowding in jails.
The move comes as John Reid, the Home Secretary, looks for ways to ease pressure on a system that seems close to breaking-point. The prison population reached 80,000 in England and Wales this week for the second time, rising by more than 200 on Monday alone.
Almost 500 offenders are being held in police cells, a former psychiatric hospital is being converted into emergency accommodation and the Home Office is considering leasing two ships.
Mr Reid chaired emergency talks on the problem yesterday with senior ministers and civil servants, as well as senior representatives of the police, judiciary and prison system.
Lord Justice Judge, the deputy chief justice and deputy chairman of the Sentencing Guidelines Council, has written to courts urging them to hold fewer remand prisoners in custody. He is reminding them that imprisonment should be reserved for defendants who it fears could abscond, commit further offences or try to intimidate witnesses.