Hardened criminals are reoffending at a record rate while the number of first-time offenders has dropped in England and Wales.
According to figures for 2011, more than 90% of those sentenced had previously offended, with around a third (31.2%) of defendants convicted of serious offences (crown court offences) had 15 or more previous convictions or cautions.
The number is the highest since 2001 when it was 17.9% and has risen steadily.
The Ministry of Justice's quarterly update also said 10.1% of offenders convicted of indictable offences in 2011 had no previous criminal offences.
The figures added that the 31.2% figure with 15 or more previous offences was an increase of 13.3% since 2001.
While the number of people with 15 or more cautions has risen steadily, the number of first time offenders has dropped since 2001 - from 11.9% to 10.1% in 2011.
Iain Bell, chief statistician for the Ministry of Justice, said: "The proportion of offenders who have either been cautioned or convicted who have 15 or more previous offences is rising."
The figures, released on Thursday, show that while the number of offenders with 15 or more previous convictions or cautions is at a record high, other repeat offenders sentenced for indictable offences has fallen.
The disorder that swept across the country last August after riots began in London made very little impact on the offending figures, said Bell.
The figures show that 85,200 people were sentenced to immediate custody for indictable offences - an increase of 2.8% since 2010, and the highest since 2002.
There was a 13.5% drop in the number of indeterminate sentences - life sentences or indeterminate sentences for public protection (IPPs).
But of those, the number of life sentences increased from 384 in 2010 to 395 in 2011 - the first annual increase since 2008.
The drop in indeterminate sentences comes alongside a 30.5% rise in the number of long determinate sentences of 10 years or more.
According to the Sentencing Council's Crown Court Sentencing Survey, also released today, "only a small proportion of offenders sentenced to an IPP have been released at the end of the minimum term tariff".
For Category One criminals who have committed the most harmful offences the average time spent behind bars from 2011 figures was seven years and eight months.
But the reseachers said fewer than 10% of parole board hearings meeting at the minimum term's conclusion resulted in the prisoner being freed.
"Therefore, the actual amount of time spent in prison is likely to be higher (than seven years eight months)".
The average amount of time people were sent to jail for has risen on average by a month - from 13.7 months in 2010 to 14.7 in 2011. It was 11.8 months in 2001.
The MoJ said the average custodial sentence length (ACSL) for indictable offences rose by a month to 17.2 months - the highest in a decade.
Sentence lengths rose for violent crimes and sex offences.
Last year people were jailed for an average of 18.8 months for crimes of violence against the person, compared to 17.8 months the previous year.
And for sexual offences the average sentence rose from 48.7 months in 2010 to 53.2 last year.