Convicts bound for Botany Bay

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First Grader
A PLANE-load of prisoners from British jails could be headed Down Under more than 200 years after Britain first sent boats full of convicts to Australia.

With the UK on the brink of a jail overcrowding crisis, Prime Minister Tony Blair has vowed "all options" are open to solve the problem - including sending hundreds of expat prisoners home to serve their sentences.

Australia's High Commissioner to the UK Richard Alston made light of the the prospect of convicts again landing on Aussie soil at a recent function. However the crisis is no laughing matter for Home Secretary John Reid.

Cells are so full he last week wrote a letter to judges urging them to lock away only the most violent and dangerous criminals. The plea brought Mr Reid under immediate fire but he says he has no choice but to propose an array of radical solutions to the cell shortages.

Suggestions include the "nuclear option" of releasing some prisoners early; sending 11,000 foreign nationals to finish their sentences at home; and creating a waiting list for jail spaces.

Other emergency proposals include renting prison ships to house criminals offshore and converting an RAF camp to house prisoners.

The maximum capacity of British jails is 80,716. The number of inmates topped 80,000 for the first time in November.

The rapidly bulging prison population has been blamed on the 2003 Justice Act, which was expected to see serious criminals locked up for longer and fewer jailed for minor crimes.
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