Up to 4,000 prisoners in England and Wales are to be released in an effort to control the spread of coronavirus, the Ministry of Justice has said.
Inmates with two months or less still to serve will be released on temporary licence in stages.
The selected low-risk offenders will be electronically tagged and can be recalled at the first sign of concern.
It is seen as a way to avoid thousands of prisoners – many of whom share cells – becoming infected.
Across 29 jails, 88 prisoners have tested positive for the virus with a further 1,200 believed to be self-isolating.
Sex offenders and those convicted of violent or sexual offences, as well as anyone who is a national security concern or a danger to children, will not be considered for release, the Prison Service said.
No inmate convicted of Covid-19-related offences – including coughing at emergency workers or stealing personal protective equipment – will be eligible either, said the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Robert Buckland QC said: “This government is committed to ensuring that justice is served to those who break the law.
“But this is an unprecedented situation because if coronavirus takes hold in our prisons, the NHS could be overwhelmed and more lives put at risk.”
The MoJ also said no prisoners with symptoms of coronavirus would be released, nor would those who do not have housing and health support in place.