A fifth of offenders believe crime does pay, a government study has found.
In a shocking display of criminals' attitudes, more than 600 adults who have been previously sentenced to a community
order told the Ministry of Justice that they agreed or strongly agreed their offences had paid off.
Elsewhere, just under a fifth of the 2,900 offenders surveyed said crime can be a useful way of getting what you want, while around one in eight criminals agreed they found committing crime exciting.
Prisoners in England and Wales were found to have committed an average of 41 previous offences, and 63% claimed most people would offend if they could get away it.
A similar proportion said they did not consider themselves to be a criminal.
Elsewhere, the survey found that offenders sentenced to community orders were younger than the general population and the majority were male.
A fifth said crime 'can be a useful way of getting what you want'
Campaigners said the survey showed community sentences were more effective than short prison terms.
The most common offences were violence against the person and theft, burglary or fraud, the survey showed.
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "This survey result is perhaps a reflection of our ailing economy and other factors outside the criminal justice system.
"At a time when jobs are scarce and benefits are under threat, it can be tempting for people to return to crime as a way of getting by, particularly if they are unskilled or poorly educated.
"However, although 36% of people on community sentences go on to reoffend within 12 months, the reoffending rate for those serving short prison sentences is much higher at 58%.
"It is encouraging to see that seven in 10 people who responded to the survey after completing a community order said that crime doesn't pay."
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "According to Ministry of Justice figures, community sentences work better than short prison sentences by nearly 10% at reducing reoffending.
"The Justice Secretary is responsible for both prison and probation services, so it is hard to understand why he appears to be promoting ineffective short spells behind bars over proven community orders."
Vicki Helyar-Cardwell, director of Criminal Justice Alliance, a coalition of 70 organisations involved in policy across the criminal justice system, said: "Today's statistics show that alongside a community penalty, it is having a job, somewhere to live and support from family that helps reduce reoffending.
"This means less crime and fewer victims. Community orders are more effective than short prison sentences at reducing reoffending by at least 8% which represents better value for taxpayer's money."