Sentences are 'insult' to victims
Ministers have been accused of insulting victims after it emerged that half of convicted sex attackers, violent criminals and burglars are avoiding prison sentences.
Thousands of serious criminals have walked free from court, including 107 paedophiles who abused children aged under 13 - 46% of the total.
Some 49% of those convicted of sexual assault in 2012 - 2,324 offenders - did not receive a custodial sentence.
Just 262 were given jail terms lasting more than four years. A total of 11,000 burglars escaped being sent to prison, as did 5,000 robbers.
Some 51% of drug dealers avoided jail terms, and so did seven in eight common assault offenders.
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan, who used parliamentary questions to obtain the statistics, said Government cuts were undermining the system.
"Some of these crimes are so serious and violent that members of the public rightly expect them to lead to a prison sentence," he told the Daily Telegraph.
"One of the concerns is that this is being done in order to save money. Justice done on the cheap like this risks prisoners reoffending rather than being reformed, which means more victims and misery.
"This will be an insult to many victims of crime who want to see those who committed crimes against them properly punished and rehabilitated."
David Cameron's official spokesman told a regular Westminster media briefing: "The Prime Minister's view is that this is a Government that has taken and is taking steps to toughen sentences.
"My understanding is that these figures relate to a sentencing framework agreed for 2010. This Government introduced automatic life sentences for a second serious sexual or violent offence and has announced plans to end automatic early release for dangerous offenders."
The spokesman said that sentencing decisions in individual cases were a matter for judges, but added that the Prime Minister would point out that, due to tougher sentencing guidelines, "t hose who break the law now are more likely to receive a custodial sentence".
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling defended the Government's record on offender sentencing and insisted criminals are serving longer jail terms.
"Since 2010 those who break the law are more likely to go to prison for longer and we are continuing to overhaul sentencing to ensure that the toughest sentencing measures are available to the courts," he said.
"I'll take no lessons on being tough on crime from a Labour party that let thousands of criminals out of prison early because they hadn't provided enough places, who let thousands of offenders off with a slap on the wrist caution instead of proper punishment, and who, to add insult to injury, failed to get any money from prisoners' earnings for their victims."
He told BBC Radio 4's World At One that the justice system "has not been victim friendly enough" but insisted that he has been "working hard to close as many of what I see are the gaps as possible".
Mr Grayling also dismissed concerns about recent disturbances at the country's largest prison, HMP Oakwood, near Wolverhampton, which is run by G4S.
"If you look at the rate of trouble in Oakwood it is not anywhere near the top of the league table. It is average for disturbance and problems in prisons which are always going to happen.
"Prisoners are always going to kick up and cause trouble, Oakwood is no different to anywhere else."