Some short-term prisoners are to get early temporary release within weeks to help Ireland's overcrowded jails cope with rising numbers of inmates, Justice Minister Alan Shatter has revealed.
Mr Shatter said the convicted offenders will have to do community service under the eyes of probation officers as part of a pilot scheme.
The move is designed to help the creaking prison system deal with a further 11.5% jump in the number put behind bars last year.
Describing the surge as the greatest challenge facing the Irish Prison Service, Mr Shatter said there would be a significant increase in inmates taking on community service rather than serving a short-term sentence over the coming year.
"In the coming weeks it is also intended on a pilot basis to provide for the early temporary release, with the requirement to do community service under supervision by the Probation Service, of appropriate prisoners who are considered to pose no threat to the community," he said.
Mr Shatter said the Parole Board would also be issued with new guidelines on a similar scheme for long-term prisoners. He is expected to make an announcement about the reforms in the autumn.
The Irish Prison Service annual report for last year showed that there were 17,179 committals to prison in 2010 - involving 13,758 people - up from 15,425 the previous year.
The report also revealed that there were 12,487 committed under sentence last year, up almost 15% on 2009, and that committals for sentences less than three months jumped 28%, largely because of a rise in the number jailed for non-payment of court-ordered fines.
There was a significant decrease in the number of inmates serving sentences of more than 10 years, and between three and five years, while the average cost of keeping a prisoner during the year was 70,513 euro, down almost 7,000 euro on 2009.
Mr Shatter said the dramatic rise in both the numbers in custody and those on temporary release meant it was necessary to ease the pressure on capacity within the prison system.