Thousands of repeat offenders could be spared prison every year if the government pushes ahead with plans to get rid of short sentences, according to a new report.

Ministers have made no secret of their wish to reduce the prison population and drive down reoffending rates, with Justice Secretary David Gauke declaring last week that there is a “very strong case” for abolishing jail terms of six months or less, except for violent and sexual crimes.

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”.

Sky News has visited a furniture business in Wigan, which has been burgled “hundreds of times” over the last 14 years, according to its owners, who are against non-custodial sentences for burglars.

This furniture business has been burgled 'hundreds of times'
Image: This furniture business has been burgled ‘hundreds of times’

Thieves trashed the premises twice in a single weekend just before Christmas after breaking in and then returning to commit even more crime.

Vicki Maclugash, who runs the business with her sister, said: “If you’ve got no deterrent whatsoever and no jail time, what’s going to put them off actually doing it?

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“There’s nothing. It’s like a free ride. There’s no penalty and no comeuppance for them doing it. These people tend to know the system.”

The Ministry Of Justice said it is “exploring more stringent and enforceable community sentences”.

A spokesman added: “It would be wrong to spend taxpayers’ money doing what we know doesn’t work – and the evidence is clear that short sentences often do more harm than good.

“They fail to rehabilitate many offenders and lead to high rates of re-offending, which actually makes us less safe and more likely to be a victim of crime.”

Vicki Maclugash says there needed to be proper punishment for repeat offenders
Image: Vicki Maclugash says there needed to be proper punishment for repeat offenders

Andrew Neilson, from the Howard League For Penal Reform, said the study was “scaremongering”.

He added: “Short-term prison sentences are counterproductive. They are just long enough for you to lose your job, lose contact with your family, but not long enough to do anything productive.”

About 34,000 offenders who were jailed in 2017 would receive non-custodial punishments under the proposed new regime, according to the paper.

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