Turkey to release 38,000 prisoners to make space for coup plotters

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U.S. Concerned About Turkey's Future in Wake of Failed Coup

ISTANBUL — Turkey will release some 38,000 prisoners under a penal reform announced on Wednesday as the arrests of tens of thousands of people suspected of links to last month's attempted coup burden overstretched jails.

The reform, extending an existing probation scheme, was one of a series of measures outlined on Wednesday in two new decrees under a state of emergency declared after the July 15 failed putsch. The government gave no reason for the reform.

Related: Turkey's Purge to Coup-Proof Its Military May Backfire

Turkey's Western allies worry President Tayyip Erdogan is using the crackdown to target dissent. Angrily dismissing Western concerns over stability in the NATO member, Turkish officials say they are rooting out a serious internal threat.

The decrees, published in the country's Official Gazette, also ordered the dismissal of 2,360 more police officers, more than 100 military personnel and 196 staff at Turkey's information and communication technology authority, BTK.

Those dismissed were described as having links to U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating the bloody coup attempt. Gulen denies involvement in the failed putsch.

Under the penal reform, convicts with up to two years left in sentences are eligible for release on probation, extending the period from one year. The "supervised release" excludes those convicted of terrorism, murder, violent or sexual crimes.

To be eligible for the scheme, prisoners must have served half of their sentences. Previously they were required to have already served two thirds of their sentence.

RELATED: Turkey's military coup

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Possible military coup in Turkey
People take cover near a bridge during an attempted coup in Istanbul, Turkey July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Yagiz Karahan
Turkish solders stay with weapons at Taksim square as people protest agaist the military coup in Istanbul on July 16, 2016. Turkish military forces on July 16 opened fire on crowds gathered in Istanbul following a coup attempt, causing casualties, an AFP photographer said. The soldiers opened fire on grounds around the first bridge across the Bosphorus dividing Europe and Asia, said the photographer, who saw wounded people being taken to ambulances. / AFP / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkish solders stay with weapons at Taksim square as people protest agaist the military coup in Istanbul on July 16, 2016. Turkish military forces on July 16 opened fire on crowds gathered in Istanbul following a coup attempt, causing casualties, an AFP photographer said. The soldiers opened fire on grounds around the first bridge across the Bosphorus dividing Europe and Asia, said the photographer, who saw wounded people being taken to ambulances. / AFP / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
People demonstrate outside Ataturk international airport during an attempted coup in Istanbul, Turkey, July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
ANKARA, TURKEY - JULY 16: People react against military coup attempt, at Kizilay square in Ankara, Turkey on July 16, 2016. (Photo by Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A group of approximately 50 young citizens of Turkey hold their national flag and shout slogans in support for Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan and his government, in Sarajevo on early on July 16, 2016. Turkish citizens, mostly students who reside in Bosnian capital, responded to Erdogan's call for citizens to get out on the streets and show support for Turkey's government during the military coup. / AFP / ELVIS BARUKCIC (Photo credit should read ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkish military block access to the Bosphorus bridge, which links the city's European and Asian sides, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer
Turkish security officers detain Turkish police officers (in black) on July 15, 2016 in Istanbul, during a security shutdown of the Bosphorus Bridge. The Turkish military on July 15 said that it had assumed power over Turkey, in what the prime minister has termed an illegal act. 'The power in the country has been seized in its entirety,' said a military statement read on NTV television, without giving further details. The military's website was not immediately accessible. / AFP / Yasin AKGUL (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
ANKARA, TURKEY - JULY 15 : 'There is an uprising attempt from within the army,' says Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. 'Those who are doing this will be punished in the hardest way.' (Photo by Ahmet zgi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JULY 15: Turkish soldiers block Istanbul's Bosphorus Brigde on July 15, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul's bridges across the Bosphorus, the strait separating the European and Asian sides of the city, have been closed to traffic. Reports have suggested that a group within Turkey's military have attempted to overthrow the government. Security forces have been called in as Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim denounced an 'illegal action' by a military 'group', with bridges closed in Istanbul and aircraft flying low over the capital of Ankara. (Photo by Gokhan Tan/Getty Images)
Turkish soldiers block Istanbul's iconic Bosporus Bridge on Friday, July 15, 2016, lit in the colours of the French flag in solidarity with the victims of Thursday's attack in Nice, France. A group within Turkey's military has engaged in what appeared to be an attempted coup, the prime minister said, with military jets flying over the capital and reports of vehicles blocking two major bridges in Istanbul. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told NTV television: "it is correct that there was an attempt," when asked if there was a coup. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A Turkish soldier stands on guard on the side of the road on July 15, 2016 in Istanbul, during a security shutdown of the Bosphorus Bridge. The Turkish military on July 15 said that it had assumed power over Turkey, in what the prime minister has termed an illegal act. 'The power in the country has been seized in its entirety,' said a military statement read on NTV television, without giving further details. The military's website was not immediately accessible. / AFP / Yasin AKGUL (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkish security officers detain Turkish police officers (in black) on July 15, 2016 in Istanbul, during a security shutdown of the Bosphorus Bridge. The Turkish military on July 15 said that it had assumed power over Turkey, in what the prime minister has termed an illegal act. 'The power in the country has been seized in its entirety,' said a military statement read on NTV television, without giving further details. The military's website was not immediately accessible. / AFP / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
ANKARA, TURKEY - JULY 15 : 'There is an uprising attempt from within the army,' says Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. 'Those who are doing this will be punished in the hardest way.' (Photo by Ahmet zgi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ANKARA, TURKEY - JULY 15 : 'There is an uprising attempt from within the army,' says Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. 'Those who are doing this will be punished in the hardest way.' (Photo by Ahmet zgi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ANKARA, TURKEY - JULY 15 : 'There is an uprising attempt from within the army,' says Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. 'Those who are doing this will be punished in the hardest way.' (Photo by Ahmet zgi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Police officers stand guard near the Turkish military headquarters in Ankara, Turkey, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Tumay Berkin TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Turkish military block access to the Bosphorus bridge, which links the city's European and Asian sides, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer
Turkish soldiers are seen on the Asian side of Istanbul, Friday, July 15, 2016. A group within Turkey's military has engaged in what appeared to be an attempted coup, the prime minister said, with military jets flying over the capital and reports of vehicles blocking two major bridges in Istanbul. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told NTV television: "it is correct that there was an attempt," when asked if there was a coup. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
An injured man is carried near a bridge during an attempted coup in Istanbul, Turkey July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Yagiz Karahan
A group within Turkey's military has attempted to overthrow the government, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said as security forces closed bridges along the Bosphorus and descended on Ankara and Istanbul.
A group within Turkey's military has attempted to overthrow the government, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said as security forces closed bridges along the Bosphorus and descended on Ankara and Istanbul.
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"This measure is not an amnesty," Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag wrote on Twitter of the penal reform. "Around 38,000 people will be released from... jail in the first stage as a result of this measure."

He did not say why the reform was needed but Turkey's prison population has trebled over the last 15 years. There were 188,000 prisoners in Turkey as of March, some 8,000 more than the existing capacity. The 38,000 would represent just over 20 percent of the prison population.

Another measure said the president could appoint as head of the armed forces any general or admiral, removing the requirement that the military chief be a top commander of the army, navy or air force. Under another move, the TIB telecoms authority will be closed.

Alongside tens of thousands of civil servants suspended or dismissed, more than 35,000 people have been detained in the purge.

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