Prisoners who will miss out on early release because a Government scheme was brought to an end are being advised to apply for another scheme to avoid "disappointment", it was revealed today.
Last week Justice Secretary Jack Straw announced End of Custody Licence, which allows inmates out up to 18 days early, would be cancelled next month.
But a circular sent to jails in England and Wales advises inmates to apply for release under Home Detention Curfew, which allows prisoners out up to four and a half months early with an electronic tag.
The notice even sympathises with inmates who find they cannot now be released on ECL.
It states: "We understand this news may come as a disappointment if you were hoping to be released on ECL. If you have questions about this notice, please speak to your Personal Officer or Offender Supervisor.
"If you still have enough time on your sentence to serve at least 14 days on HDC and complete the necessary risk assessments you may be considered for HDC."
The Tories accused ministers of a "cynical and dishonest ploy".
Shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve said: "This letter to prisoners - cancelling early release, but advising they apply for home detention - shows that Jack Straw's announcement was all about politics, at the expense of the public interest. Prisoners will still be released early - just under a different procedure. This is a cynical and dishonest ploy from a desperate government."
Mr Straw told MPs last week no prisoners would be eligible for ECL after March 12, and the last remaining prisoner released under the scheme will go free on April 9.
Since it was introduced in July 2007 to deal with chronic overcrowding in prisons, some 80,000 inmates have been let out.
Anyone sentenced to between four weeks and four days was eligible, apart from those convicted of serious violent or sexual offences.
But on the same day as Mr Straw's announcement, the Ministry of Justice also announced more prisoners would be released wearing tags.
It was claimed the scheme could be ended because there was enough "headroom" in the prison estate.
But Ministry of Justice figures show there are barely 350 more empty spaces than a year ago.
In February last year there were 82,596 prisoners in custody and 84,737 spaces, leaving 2,141 spare, compared with 2,504 today.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "We are able to end the ECL scheme now because of the large increase in prison capacity over the last two years - more than 6,700 places since April 2007.
"The Government always said that the scheme was temporary and would be brought to an end when it was safe to do so.
"Only those who have completed a risk assessment would be considered for early release under the HDC."