The proposal, by Corrections Victoria, would have the most trustworthy inmates freed to live in disused community facilities or caravans.
The State Government has been facing mounting pressure over a cramped prison population and police being forced to look after some sentenced offenders in station cells.
Although new jails will be built in Victoria, demand for space will also increase as the government's get-tough-on- crime agenda leads to higher incarceration rates.
"The Government is always considering ways to make the corrections systems better and more efficient," James Talia, a spokesman for the Corrections Minister Ed O'Donohue said.
"Corrections has been asked to do more work on this idea before the Government assesses whether it will proceed."
A place on the work gangs would be viewed as a privilege earned by prisoners for good behaviour.
Most of those eligible would be nearing the end of their sentences, lessening the temptation to break the law and receive more prison time.
Only those serving time for non-violent and non-sexual crimes would be considered.
Planting trees, erecting fencing and clearing waterways would be among jobs to which they could be assigned.
Those on release would be supervised by Corrections Victoria staff.
Other elements helping push the proposal are:
BIG potential cost savings, compared to housing inmates behind bars;
PRISONERS being seen as giving something back to the community;
PROVIDING an extra incentive for good conduct;
INMATES developing new skills.
The plan will ultimately need the State Government's approval to be instigated.
A Department of Justice source said it was being painstakingly examined for pitfalls but, at this stage, appeared a potential solution to the jail overcrowding scourge.
"On paper, it looks like an idea which may work to satisfy a lot of requirements but we have to make sure it can work in practice," the source said.
"It wouldn't hurt any of these blokes to give something back to the community."
The prisoners involved would be lower risk offenders from minimum security jails.
Those would include Langi Kal Kal, west of Ballarat, Dhurringile, near Shepparton, and Beechworth in the state's northeast. Some of those prisoners already work on external community projects but are not allowed to live outside prison walls.
heraldsun.com.au 16 Sep 2013