The Prison Service is to release 1,200 prisoners over the next three years onto community service programmes as part of a Government-approved plan to manage prisons.

The releases are part of a new strategy for the Prison System published today, which also outlines plans to provide in-cell sanitation in all cells and drug-free units in all prisons.

The Director of the Prison Service will also introduce sentence management and community reintegration plans for each offender.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter described the plan to release inmates onto Community Return programmes as “win-win”.

He said the scheme will reduce overcrowding and benefit the taxpayer by reducing the cost of keeping people in jail.

Around 10% of all those in prison are serving 12 months or less and the Prison Service has said many of them do not need to be in custody.

Other elements of the three-year strategy on prisons include sentence management plans for those serving more than a year and community reintegration programmes for inmates, beginning nine months before they are freed.

Cork Prison and parts of Limerick Prison are to be rebuilt and there will be in-cell sanitation for all cells, with 60% of Mountjoy's cells being completed by the end of this year.