Tens of thousands of serial offenders are walking free from court after being given suspended sentences despite persistent reoffending.
One in three prison sentences (31%) were suspended in 2012/13, meaning criminals do not go to jail as long as they commit no further crimes for a limited amount of time, an increase from 2% in 2002.
A total of 9,052 offenders were handed suspended sentences in 2012/13 despite having 15 or more previous convictions or cautions, according to figures obtained by the Centre for Crime Prevention.
Some 11,670 were given suspended sentences despite 10 previous convictions or cautions.
Even those convicted of violent offences were getting away without serving time in prison, the figures from the criminal justice campaign group showed.
There has been a 14-fold increase in those being given a suspended sentence for violence against the person â€“ from 504 in 2002 to 7,288 in 2012.
Some critics have suggested the courts are using suspended sentences as a way of managing the spiralling prison population.
Centre for Crime Prevention director Peter Cuthbertson said: â€œThugs and sex offenders who think they are finally going to prison are overjoyed when they find out that their prison sentence has been suspended.
â€œIt makes a mockery of justice for victims and puts the public at great risk.
â€œThese figures show that criminals given suspended sentences go on to commit hundreds of thousands of crimes.
â€œSuspended sentences should be abolished.â€
However, Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said: â€œSince 2010 criminals are more likely to go to prison â€“ and for longer.
â€œIn the 12 months to June 2013 almost 48,000 offenders didnâ€™t â€˜walk freeâ€™ but went straight to prison â€“ four times as many as got a suspended sentence.â€
Since taking office, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has issued a number of tough proposals including, recently, two strikes and out automatic prison sentences for those caught carrying a knife more than once.
The proposal has split the coalition, with Nick Clegg saying he would block the move .
Mr Graylingâ€™s plans also include strengthening sentences for banned drivers who kill on the roads and criminals who kill police or prison officers in the course of duty. Violent criminals will lose their right to automatic early release from prison.