Community sentences have been branded a failure after it emerged nearly 8,000 criminals sent to prison last year had been handed 11 or more of the supervised orders.
More than three quarters of prisoners had previously received at least one community sentence, figures released to campaigners the Centre for Crime Prevention (CCP) showed.
The data, obtained by CCP following a Freedom of Information request, also showed that 123,675 offences were committed by 37,833 criminals within a year of them receiving a community sentence.
CCP director Peter Cuthbertson said: "Community sentences fail to protect the public and fail to stop reoffending. Prison works."
He added: "These figures prove that letting thousands of criminals off with one community sentence after another is failing. Stiff prison sentences protect the public and have lower reoffending rates."
However, Graham Beech a director at the crime reduction charity, Nacro, warned against drawing hasty conclusions from the figures.
He said: “These statistics may look dramatic but in reality don’t make a lot of sense.
"They don’t compare like for like crimes nor do they consider the stark failure of prison to rehabilitate people on short term prison sentences.
"What is clear from established academic research on the subject is that community sentences are over eight percentage points more effective at reducing one-year proven reoffending rates than custodial sentences for similar offenders.
Beech went on to say that although more effective, more could be done to improve the effectiveness of community sentences.
He added: "What the public and victims want is for crime to stop.
"Prison should be reserved for those who commit dangerous and serious offences and we must focus on community sentences that build on progress made, balancing punishment with reform in order to reduce crime in our communities.”
Others in the rehabilitation sector agree.
Vicki Helyar-Cardwell, director of the Criminal Justice Alliance, a coalition of 70 organisations including campaigning charities, said: "Community penalties remain at least 8% more effective than short prison sentences at reducing reoffending, which means fewer victims of crime.
"We know that reoffending rates for short prison sentences are getting worse, whereas community sentences are improving. We need to strengthen community sentences through smarter use of drug treatment, reparation and more mental health support.
"Community sanctions mean that offenders can begin to deal with issues such as drug and alcohol addictions and make reparation to their community, whilst maintaining links with their families and employment."
Prison Reform Trust director Juliet Lyon said: "If you compare similar offenders with similar offences, you find that community sentences are almost 10% more effective than a short prison sentence at reducing reoffending.
"To cut crime and prevent future victims, respected research shows that it is far better to pay back in the community for harm done than waste time behinds bars."
Justice Minister Jeremy Wright admitted there was a problem with reoffending rates saying they are "unacceptably high".
He said: "We are tackling this by changing the way we deal with offenders released after short sentences, so there is greater supervision and rehabilitation.
"Prison does work. But we are toughening up community sentences so every sentence contains a genuine punishment, including fines, unpaid work and strict curfews and exclusion zones - which can be enforced with state-of-the-art GPS tracking."
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