Prisoners serving less than a year have the highest reoffending rate
Nearly half of prisoners released from prison go on to commit further offences, government figures indicate.
The percentage re-offending went up for the second year on a row to 49.4% - but is lower than in 2002 when 55% of prisoners committed further crimes.
The statistics show re-offending rates by women went up by four times that for men - by 16.4%, compared with 4.2%.
The National Audit Office recently found reoffending in England and Wales costs the taxpayer up to £10bn a year.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) assesses re-offending rates by measuring the number of further offences committed by a group of criminals in England and Wales within a year of their release.
Those let out in the first three months of 2008 committed 37,178 offences within a year.
Shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve said the prison system was "dilapidated and overcrowded" and was "failing to turn offenders around".
He said: "Half of prisoners commit another recordable offence within a year of release.
"We simply can't go on like this. We need more prison capacity to address chronic prison overcrowding; more freedom for governors to choose solutions which work; and a rehabilitation revolution to provide post-release support to reform offenders."
But Justice Minister Maria Eagle said "significant progress" was being made in making communities safer and over-all, re-offending rates had fallen since 2000.
The National Audit Office report found many prisoners were spending all day in their cells rather than being engaged in training and rehabilitation.
There was also "little evidence" that the risk of short-sentence prisoners reoffending had been reduced, it added.
Of all those in jail, prisoners serving less than a year have the highest reoffending rates and the most convictions, an average of 16.