The Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has said he does not think putting more people into prisons is "the best way of protecting society".
"We've got to stop having this revolving door where people go into prison, serve their time, come out and, in a little less than a year, half of them have committed some more crimes," he told Today presenter John Humphrys.
Questioned about government proposals on changes in sentencing which would result in fewer people going to prison, but create tougher community punishments, Mr Clarke told the programme he believed the government needed to "get on with rehabilitating prisoners".
"Prison is there to punish people", he said, but society needed to do "far more than we do at the moment to make sure they don't simply start offending all over again".
Mr Clarke criticised the last government for going "just for the headlines" and "piling up the prison population".
And he added that he believed no-one could "prove one way or another" the correlation between the numbers of prison population and crime.
But he insisted that some of the prison population "probably could be stopped" from committing further crimes and the government should concentrate on making the reform of offenders "more effective".
Ministers want to cut the number of inmates by 3,000 to help save £4bn from the prison and probation budget over the next four years.
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