The Centre for Crime Prevention has attacked the courts’ failure to imprison repeat offenders.

Its figures suggest nationally, 29,000 criminals who had 25 or more previous offences escaped jail in 2012.

Peter Cuthbertson, author of the report and director of the centre, said: “The courts are utterly failing to show they take crime seriously.

“Prison is the only sure way to protect the public from hardened criminals.

“The most prolific offenders are responsible for a growing percentage of all crime, and locking them up would have a massive impact on the crime rate,” he added.

There were 523 people who escaped jail England and Wales during 2012 despite having 100 or more previous offences, and eight people avoided incarceration despite having 300 or more previous offences.

Mr Cuthbertson said: “New Zealand recently fought rising crime by letting criminals know that it is ‘three strikes and you’re out’. In Britain, we don’t even have 300 strikes and you’re out.”

He wants the government to build more prisons to protect the public from prolific offenders, and reckons the government should consider an automatic minimum sentence of four years for anyone convicted after a certain number of previous offences.