A union today urged the Government to invest in "intensive" community orders as a way of saving money and cutting re-offending.
Napo, the probation union, said at least 74% of prisoners serving terms of less than 12 months were reconvicted within two years.
But this figure drops to 50% for those placed on probation, and falls further to 34% for those handed intensive programmes, Napo said.
The union said around 55,000 people a year currently receive jail terms of six months or less, with no possibility of rehabilitation, at an annual cost of £350 million.
But the price to the taxpayer would be between £50 million and £60 million to supervise the offenders in the community, the union said.
Instead of cutting probation budgets, the union said the Government should spend the additional £50 million to £60 million on up to 1,250 extra probation staff to supervise programmes for offenders.
Programmes deal with violent offending, alcohol and substance abuse, anger management, domestic violence and sex offending.
Napo assistant general secretary Harry Fletcher said: "Currently, 55,000 people receive custodial sentences of six months or less, where no rehabilitation is possible and there are extremely high re-offending rates.
"This costs the taxpayer at least £350 million a year.
"As an alternative, the majority of these individuals could be supervised in the community on intensive programmes costing between £50 million and £60 million a year.
"Not only would this option be cheaper, but the reconviction rates would be much lower.
"It does seem extraordinary, therefore, that the Government is actually cutting probation budgets, which is bound to lead to more, not less, custodial sentences, worse reconviction rates and therefore more victims."
Napo said the main offences committed by those given short-term custodial sentences were actual bodily harm, theft, motoring offences and possession of indecent images.Reuse content