Three-quarters of offenders return to crime regardless of whether they are jailed or given community sentences, according to the Ministry of Justice.
Newly published figures show that 74% of offenders were convicted within nine years of starting a community order or being released from prison.
The statistics, for England and Wales, also reveal for the first time rates of reoffending for individual prisons.
Justice Minister Crispin Blunt said the root causes of crime must be targeted.
The figures also show that 14 prisons have one-year reoffending rates of more than 70%.
According to BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw, the figures also show there is less difference between short-term imprisonment and community orders in terms of reoffending than has been previously thought.
The MoJ’s figures also show that of the offenders who were discharged from custody or began a court order between January and March 2000, 20% had been reconvicted within three months, 43% within a year, 55% within two years, and 68% within five years.
Individual prison rates
Court orders under probation were seven per cent more effective at reducing reoffending rates after one year than custodial sentences of less than 12 months, according to a comparison made using figures from 2007.
Details of reconviction rates at individual prisons in 2007 have been released for the first time, and show that at one-in-eight adult prisons across England and Wales, more than 70% of inmates serving sentences of a year or less were released, only to be reconvicted within 12 months.
At Dorchester prison, 74.7% of inmates serving short sentences were released but reconvicted within 12 months, and at New Hall women’s prison in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, 76.6% of those on short sentences were reconvicted within 12 months.
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Prison remains the right place for the most serious, dangerous and persistent offenders”
End Quote Crispin Blunt Justice Minister
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said it was the “ordinary things that count” towards preventing reoffending, such as “a home, a job and a supportive family”.
She added: “If you compare the results of a community penalty with a short prison sentence, you can see why the justice secretary wants to keep petty offenders out of prison and paying back in the community.”
Mr Blunt said: “Today’s statistics show we need a more intelligent approach to sentencing that targets the root causes of crime and reoffending, so making our communities safer and better places to live.
“Reoffending rates among short-sentence prisoners remain unacceptably high. We will address this failure in the system by making prisons into places of hard work which prepare offenders more effectively for the outside world.
“Prison remains the right place for the most serious, dangerous and persistent offenders. We must stop the revolving door of crime and reoffending.
“We will do this by targeting interventions that work for victims, offenders and the community.”