Prisoners could be jailed at weekends and work during the week under radical plans to be unveiled by the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, in a shake-up of sentencing policy for Britain's courts.
Offenders and remand prisoners could be locked up at weekends and evenings in special open prisons but allowed out during the day to work, he said.
The idea has worked in Germany and Mr Blunkett says it could work in Britain. "I'm interested in intermittent custody, where offenders undertake compulsory programmes to address their offending behaviour or make reparations to the community while holding down a home and a job," he said.
The authorities could deny liberty to offenders but allow them to learn new skills and maintain family relationships, including caring for their children, he said.
Weekend imprisonment could also help those jailed for minor offences to rehabilitate themselves more quickly once their sentences are over.
"We need to be radical," he said. "We send more people to prison than almost any other European country, yet reconviction rates are too high," he said. "We need to provide a genuine third option to custody and community punishment."
He makes it clear that he is not talking about dangerous, violent or sexual offenders, but recognises that, even so, his plans could be controversial.
"These open prisons could also allow convicted offenders to make reparations to the community and address their offending behaviour through tough and effective programmes," he said.
Advances in tagging and voice recognition make this an effective option for those who do not need high levels of security.
In a separate move, Mr Blunkett intends to make it a criminal offence to trade in sex slaves. The Home Secretary is due to announce on Thursday a crackdown on the trade in women to Britain for prostitution and lap dancing bars.Reuse content