Prison sentences under six months are ineffective and should be scrapped, the prisons minister has said.
Rory Stewart said he is “looking very carefully” at bringing in new legislation that would see up to 30,000 offenders convicted of crimes such as burglary and shoplifting spared jail every year.
Stewart said the move would ease pressure on the country’s overcrowded prison system and would give offenders a better chance at rehabilitation.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph the minister said “very short” jail terms are “long enough to damage you and not long enough to heal you.”
“You bring somebody in for three or four weeks, they lose their house, they lose their job, they lose their family, they lose their reputation,” he said.
“They come [into prison], they meet a lot of interesting characters to put it politely and then you wap them on to the streets again.”
He added: “In my responsibility to protect the public, the public are safer if we have a good community sentence rather than putting people in prison for short sentences and it will also relieve a lot of pressure on these prisons.”
The proposal emulates Scotland, which has already introduced a ban on sentences under three months, with plans to extend the minimum to 12 months this year.
The change would not include offenders convicted of violence or sex crimes.
An Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “As we have said previously, short sentences are too often ineffective, provide little opportunity to rehabilitate offenders and lead to unacceptably high rates of reoffending.
“That’s why we are exploring potential alternatives but this work is ongoing and we have reached no conclusions at this time.”
In August Stewart said he will resign in a year if he does not succeed in reducing levels of drugs and violence in 10 of England’s most dangerous jails.