More than a third of adult offenders convicted of a serious offence last year were career criminals with 15 or more previous convictions or cautions, figures reveal.
But of those cases, fewer than half (45%) resulted in an immediate prison sentence.
Ministry of Justice figures show 147,883 adult offenders were convicted of indictable offences in courts across England and Wales in 2020.
Of these, 53,623 (36%) had 15 or more previous convictions or cautions under their belts.
That was a lower proportion than in 2019 (38%) but higher than the 32% seen in 2010, and suggests many so-called ‘career criminals’ are caught up in a cycle of reoffending.
Indictable offences are more serious crimes, which may be sent to Crown Court, and include rape, theft and violent offences.
The figures also show 2,576 career criminals had between 61 and 75 previous cautions or convictions, while 2,268 had 75 or more.
More than half of 2020’s career criminals escaped without an immediate prison sentence.
‘Soft on crime’
The Labour party said the "shocking" national figures were partly a result of the Government’s decision to part-privatise the probation service seven years ago – a move reversed in June this year with renationalisation of the service.
‘Public at risk’
Holly Lynch, Labour’s shadow minister for crime reduction and courts, said: "The Government is soft on crime and its causes.
"By failing to reduce crime through rehabilitation in our prisons and our communities, the Tories are putting the public at risk."
She added that Labour would "put victims first by enshrining their rights in law" and focus on criminal rehabilitation to stop the cycle of reoffending.
In its outcome delivery plan for 2021-22, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop reoffending by focusing on interventions such as providing a home, job and access to treatment of substance-misuse.
It said the reunification of the probation service meant staff had the skills to run rehabilitative programmes, preventing crime and increasing supervision of offenders outside prison.
But groups which support the rehabilitation of reoffenders say the Government was still not doing enough.
People need help with housing
Charity Unlocked, which helps people dealing with the stigma of a criminal record, said people also needed support with physical and mental health and wellbeing, as well as housing and employment.
Chief executive Angela Cairns added: "Having to disclose a criminal record is a barrier to access those things – local authorities are permitted to exclude people with unspent convictions from social housing and more than half of employers admit they would discriminate against someone with a criminal record."
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Reducing reoffending is one of our top priorities.
"That’s why we’re investing millions through the Beating Crime Plan to provide robust monitoring, while tackling the drivers of offending such as substance misuse, homelessness and unemployment.”
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