Thousands of prisoners could be released early or be locked up only on weekends as part of a scheme to cut down the population of UK's jails, according to reports. Justice secretary Michael Gove is set to introduce new plans that would see foreign inmates released from prison up to nine months before they reach the halfway point of their sentence if they agree to return to their native country.

British prisoners could also be released and monitored by satellite tracking devices that would allow they to work during the week and return to prison at weekends only, reported The Times. A Whitehall spokesperson said the scheme would be a way to reduce the estimated 10,000 foreign prisoners held in the UK jails at a cost of £360m ($542m, €497m) a year.

The move follows a report from the HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) in July that outlined the decreasing conditions of care Britain's prisons. The annual report said that you were more likely to die in prison today than five years ago. More prisoners were murdered, killed themselves, self-harmed and were victims of assaults than five years ago and the number of assaults and serious assaults against staff also rose. The report added the state of the jails was partially due to the rise of "legal highs" being smuggled inside the prisons.

Gove said the government must work towards reducing the population of prisons as inmates should not be punished while in jail. He told The Times: "Sending someone to a cell is punishment itself."

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: " "Foreign criminals who break our laws should be properly punished but not at the expense of the British taxpayer. We want foreign criminals deported as quickly as possible. We also want to ensure the sentences handed down to British criminals keep all our citizens safe. Protecting the public is our first responsibility and we won't compromise on that for any reason."