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LONDON: The UK government on Monday announced a raft of measures, including the early deportation of foreign prisoners and fewer custodial sentences, to tackle prison overcrowding made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

There are currently 88,225 prisoners in the England and Wales jail system, which has an operational capacity of 88,782, according to figures published on Friday.

This is the highest ever figure, and is twice as high as 30 years ago, justice minister Alex Chalk told the House of Commons.

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The overcrowding is largely due to the number of prisoners being held awaiting trial, linked to delays in trying cases due to the pandemic, he added.

Around two-thirds of prisons in England and Wales are overcrowded, according to the Guardian newspaper.

Chalk announced Monday that the prison service will move some less serious offenders out of prison onto license up to 18 days before their automatic release date.

Custodial sentences of less than a year will also be suspended, with offenders instead sent to serve in the community.

Foreign prisoners will also be deported up to 18 months before the end of their sentence, as opposed to up to a year at present.

"And we will bring forward legislation to enable prisoners to be held in prisons overseas -- an approach taken by Belgium, Norway and Denmark in recent years," he added.

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