Prison sentences of less than a year should be scrapped for all but the most serious crimes, a justice minister has said.
Rory Stewart told the Commons Justice Select Committee he wanted to "significantly reduce, if not eliminate" terms of under 12 months, saying that community penalties were more effective.
He added there would be cases - such as violent or sexual crimes - where prison terms would still be justified.
The Penrith and The Border MP said: "My number one priority is to protect the public and I believe that the best way of protecting the public is to significantly reduce, if not eliminate, the under 12-month prison population because people on community sentences are less likely to reoffend than people who are put in prison.
"I am not going to be reducing the prison population just to save money.
"If somebody ought to be in prison, they ought to be in prison, and then my job is to go to the Treasury and get the money to pay for that prison place."
Minor criminals need 'support'
"At the moment prisons are very violent, dangerous places with a huge amount of problems," said Andrew Neilson, from prison reform group Howard League.
"The particular group of people that Rory Stewart is talking about that commit more minor crimes and go behind bars for just two or three weeks, nothing positive can be done with them in that time.
You have to look at the reasons they commit crimes - often it's because of drug or alcohol problems, mental health issues.
"Prisons aren’t set up to deal with that and what Rory Stewart was talking about is sentences that can deal with that and offer support."
During Tuesday's appearance at the committee, Mr Stewart said a contract worth around £200 million awarded to now-liquidated Carillion by the Ministry of Justice was "completely unsustainable in terms of their finances".
He said Carillion offered to perform maintenance tasks for "considerably less money" than it would cost the department to perform.
He added: "We signed up to that and, in retrospect, more weight should have been given to saying, 'Wait a second, what on earth is Carillion proposing here?'
"They are basically proposing to do this and lose £15 million a year.
"Is that really sustainable or are we going to end up back in a situation where we are paying for it?"