Community sentences have been branded a failure after it emerged nearly 8,000 criminals sent to prison last year had been handed 11 or more of the supervised orders.
More than three quarters of prisoners had previously received at least one community sentence, showed figures released to pressure group the Centre for Crime Prevention (CCP).
The data, obtained by CCP following a Freedom of Information request, also showed that 123,675 offences were committed by 37,833 criminals within a year of them receiving a community sentence.
CCP director Peter Cuthbertson said: "Community sentences fail to protect the public and fail to stop reoffending. Prison works." He added: "These figures prove that letting thousands of criminals off with one community sentence after another is failing. Stiff prison sentences protect the public and have lower reoffending rates."
Community sentences can include between 40 to 300 unpaid hours of work such as removing graffiti, clearing wasteland and decorating public places. They can also include treatment programmes for drug addiction or mental health conditions.
Mr Cuthbertson's report said many prisoners are pushed through "a revolving door" of community sentences before finally receiving a custodial sentence. He said community sentences fail to protect the public and have a higher reoffending rate than either medium or long prison sentences.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling recently unveiled a shake-up of probation services, which will see lower-risk offenders supervised by private firms and charities on a payment by results basis. Prisoners serving sentences under 12 months will be forced to undertake a period of rehabilitation upon release for the first time
Vicki Helyar-Cardwell, director of the Criminal Justice Alliance, a coalition of 70 organisations including campaigning charities, said: "Community penalties remain at least 8% more effective than short prison sentences at reducing reoffending, which means fewer victims of crime.
"We know that reoffending rates for short prison sentences are getting worse, whereas community sentences are improving. We need to strengthen community sentences through smarter use of drug treatment, reparation and more mental health support."
Prison Reform Trust director Juliet Lyon said: "If you compare similar offenders with similar offences, you find that community sentences are almost 10% more effective than a short prison sentence at reducing reoffending. To cut crime and prevent future victims, respected research shows that it is far better to pay back in the community for harm done than waste time behinds bars."