PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Police are searching for a convicted rapist mistakenly released from prison, authorities said.

John Schleigh, 24, of Philadelphia, was freed Thursday after he returned from a hearing during which an unrelated theft charge against him was dropped.

''The officer on duty and his supervisor misinterpreted that to mean that the individual could now be released,'' said David S. Owens Jr., superintendent of Holmesburg Prison. ''It was an error. We made a mistake.''

Schleigh was convicted last month of raping a 31-year-old woman in 1982. He was to be sentenced April 10.

Police Sgt. Edward Stenson said authorities are satisfied the release was an honest mistake.

The employees involved will be given reprimands and may face further disciplinary action, Owens said.