Community sentences, far from being a soft option, are "designed to be onerous", the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales has said.
The Lord Chief Justice defended community sentences
Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers was defending the use of non-custodial sentences for less serious offences.
Making criminals do "clearly visible" unpaid work while keeping the most dangerous offenders in jail is part of the government's prison reform plan.
Lord Phillips made his remarks in a speech at Oxford University.
"A properly planned and resourced community sentence is a hardship for the offender but one that is focused on the root causes of his offending," Lord Phillips said.
"More importantly, community sentences provide a visible demonstration of reparation to the community in which the offence occurred."
The community would "both influence and understand the nature and type of sentence performed", he added.
In February, then Home Secretary Charles Clarke told MPs sending fewer criminals to jail was the key to improving prison and probation services in England and Wales.
Prison reform groups backed the five year criminal justice plan but want funding to keep jail populations down.
But the Conservatives dismissed the plans as "minor changes" for "massive problems".