The Ministry of Justice considers banning prison sentences of less than six months in England and Wales.
Ministers argue that short jail terms are less effective at cutting re-offending than community penalties.
Thousands of repeat offenders could be spared prison every year if the government pushes ahead with plans to get rid of short sentences. If such jail sentences were to be scrapped, it is thought it could free up thousands of prison places.
Some 30,000 criminals, including burglars and most shoplifters, could be spared jail every year under the proposals.
‘Loss of reputation.’
Offenders could face sanctions such as community sentences but no alternative penalties have been confirmed.
Overall, the measure could reduce the prison population by about 3,500, although it would require legislation.
The Ministry of Justice is now considering preventing courts from imposing prison terms of less than six months unless the sentence is for a violent crime or a sexual offence.
In Scotland, a presumption against prison sentences of less than three months is already in place and is due to be extended to 12 months.
But a study from the think-tank Civitas claims the approach would amount to an “amnesty for prolific thieves and burglars”.
The report, written by Peter Cuthbertson, founder of the Centre For Crime Prevention, warns of “tens of thousands more hardened criminals avoiding prison”.