About 400 inmates of Virginia prisons have been released on parole before completing their sentences under a recently enacted state law design to ease overcrowding in Virgina's penal institutions.

The 399 prisoners paroled on Sunday were the first to be released under mandatory parole legislation approved by the 1979 General Assembly. All of them were due to complete their sentences within the next six months, according to state corrections department officials.

Sixty-nine of the newly released inmates are from Northern Virginia, officials said.

In addition to the 399 prisoners who were paroled, 44 others were released from Virginia institutions and turned over to federal or other authorities for prosecution or imprisonment for other offenses, according to corrections department spokeman Wayne Farrar.

The new legislation, effective Sunday, requires that prisoners freed six months before their terms expire must be placed under the supervision of a parole officer.

A key factor in the General Assembly's approval of the legislation was concern over overcrowding in state prisons. Virginia's penal institutions are designed to hold 8,100 inmates. Until Sunday, Farrar said, about 8,300 inmates were confined at the state's 42 correctional facilities. In addition, nearly 1,100 state prisoners were being held temporarily at county and city jails in Virginia because of insufficient space in state institutions, Farrar said.

Paroling the state inmates on Sunday will permit authorities to transfer about 400 state prisoners from county and city jails to state correctional institutions during the next few weeks; Farrar said.

While overcrowding has been a central issue, state corrections officials say the legislation also will help prisoners return to society more easily by guaranteeing at least six months of parole supervision.

"Having a parole officer assigned to help him or her find employment and reestablished family and community ties should impove the chances of his or her successful (social) reintegration," state corrections director Terrel Don Hutto said in a statement last week.

The prisoners who were released Sunday are required to report to local parole offices by today, authorities said.

One incident involving the parolees was reported Sunday. A 19-year-old inmate, freed before completing a two-year sentence for receiving stolen goods, was arrested and charged with assault and indecent exposure. He was being held yesterday in city jail in Norfolk.