Three out of five people think community sentences are a soft option or "weak and undemanding", a report has found.
Even the community payback scheme, the toughest type of order, often involves working in charity shops or serving tea in luncheon clubs, the Policy Exchange think-tank said.
It called for a radical overhaul to put payback and punishment at the heart of community sentences as Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke prepares to outline plans for a rehabilitation revolution that could see less jail time and more community orders for offenders.
The report found one in two people were against using more community sentences in their current form and three in four thought they should be more focused on payback to the community and punishment.
Victims' Commissioner Louise Casey questioned whether making costumes for the Notting Hill Carnival, working in a charity shop or making tea for the elderly was a sufficient punishment. "I have called time and again for community sentences to be tough, to be intensive and to be visible to local communities against which harm has been done," she said.
"But I have come up against if not political reluctance, then institutional cultural reluctance and even outright hostility from many in the criminal justice sector. It's as if the legal principle of punishment in sentencing is somehow unseemly - rather than a legitimate and correct response to those who step outside society's agreed rules.
"To have the confidence of those who pass sentence, the public, and of victims in particular, this must change."
Robert Kaye, author of the report Fitting the Crime: Reforming Community Sentences, added community sentences were "fundamentally flawed, poorly administered and confused in their purpose".
The YouGov survey of 2,082 people also found just one in 20 people thought community sentences were "good for rehabilitation".