Ministers argue that short jail terms are less effective at cutting reoffending than community penalties.

Prisons minister Rory Stewart told the Daily Telegraph that such sentences were “long enough to damage you and not long enough to heal you”.

If such jail sentences were to be scrapped, it is thought it could free up thousands of prison places.

Some 30,000 criminals, including burglars and most shoplifters, could be spared jail every year under the proposals, the Telegraph reports.

‘Loss of reputation’

Offenders could face sanctions such as community sentences but no alternative penalties have been confirmed.

Overall, the measure could reduce the prison population by about 3,500, although it would require legislation. 

The Ministry of Justice is now considering preventing courts from imposing prison terms of less than six months unless the sentence is for a violent crime or a sexual offence. 

In Scotland, a presumption against prison sentences of less than three months is already in place and is due to be extended to 12 months.

Arguing for the need for reform, Mr Stewart told the Daily Telegraph Magazine: “You bring somebody in for three or four weeks, they lose their house, their job, their family, their reputation.

“They come (into prison), they meet a lot of interesting characters (to put it politely) and then you whap them on to the streets again.

“The public are safer if we have a good community sentence… and it will relieve a lot of pressure on prisons.”

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Since they took up their posts last year, Justice Secretary David Gauke and Mr Stewart have both made it clear they want to reduce the use of short prison sentences.

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