Home Secretary John Reid has been urged to take decisive action over Britain's prisons amid fears that jails could be full within days.

A Home Office spokesman said yesterday that prison service officials were likely to present a series of options to Dr Reid regarding possible action if the prison population reaches capacity.

He added that this was likely to include proposals for dealing with foreign prisoners.

An announcement on the way forward in the prisons overcrowding crisis is expected in the next few days.

It followed reports yesterday that senior Prison Service officials were expected to tell the Home Secretary he should either release some inmates early to free up jail space or, if that idea is rejected, start making use of cells at police stations, a strategy known as Operation Safeguard.

According to BBC Radio Five Live, it is thought about 500 police cells could be made available, and another option is to deport or to transfer to immigration centres some of the 10,000 foreign prisoners who are being held.

Latest figures show the number of prisoners in England and Wales has reached 79,642, with capacity put by the Prison Service as 79,968.

The population, already running at record levels, rose by another 357 in the week to September 29. If that trend continues, jails could be full within days.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "Faced with a crisis largely caused by successive Home Secretaries talking tough but failing to come to grips with effective prison policy, John Reid must now act decisively to divert petty offenders into enforced community work and addicts into treatment."