Saudi Arabia is planning to scrap jail punishment in some cases and allow prisoners to go to work as part of a drive to overhaul its prison system, a top prison official was quoted yesterday as saying.

General Ali Al Harthi, director general of Saudi Arabia's prisons, said the plans also include improvement of prison conditions and expansion of education and rehabilitation centres for prisoners.

"The next few months will see radical changes in the punishment of guilty people," he told the Saudi-owned Arabic language daily Al Sharq Al Awsat. "Jail penalties will be scrapped in some cases and will be replaced by other alternatives ... conditions inside prisons will be improved and we will revive the practice of allowing prisoners to go to work except those sentenced in serious crimes."

He said there were also plans to cancel present measures which stipulate sacking those who are jailed for months from their jobs.

"We will give due consideration to prisoners' conditions, their work and salaries ... We intend to allow some of them to go to work as usual and come back until they complete their jail terms," he said.

The paper quoted him as saying other alternatives to imprisonment would include fines or compulsory social work.

"These alternatives will ease pressure on prisons and are more useful than jail penalties which might not achieve their goal of correcting prisoners."

Harithi said nearly 7,500 prisoners were being released in line with a pardon issued by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia to mark Ramadan.