Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson says he is "rather fond of villains going to prison".
His comments follow Justice Secretary Ken Clarke's call for prison reforms to develop alternatives to jail.
Mr Clarke has also said it is "virtually impossible" to rehabilitate offenders on short sentences.
But Sir Paul told radio station LBC 97.3 he approved of prison for crimes such as burglary, which can carry sentences of less than 12 months.
Asked if he agreed that fewer people should go to prison, Sir Paul said: "Don't forget what my mission in life is: save life, prevent crime. I'm rather fond of villains going to prison. I rather like it.
"I've said on many occasions, I think I've said it on this show before, before a burglar burgles a house, he should anticipate a period of imprisonment if and when he's caught.
"I'm a fan of that and I also think that victims of serious crime would actually think that prison works."
He also said there was a need for a "balance between retribution and rehabilitation" in the justice system.
"I believe in both. I don't believe that we should never do short sentence sentences."
But he said what "we have failed to do" is to work in the community with those ex-offenders who had served short sentences.
"That's what we need to concentrate on - to stop that revolving door.
"People going back again and again and again and wasting public money."
Last month, Mr Clarke outlined radical prison reforms to "shut the revolving door of crime and reoffending".
Criticising the growth of the prison population in England and Wales, he said there must be other penalties.
Mr Clarke said: "Banging up more and more people for longer without actively seeking to change them is what you would expect of Victorian England."
But former Conservative Home Secretary Michael Howard said he was "not convinced" by Mr Clarke's suggestion that fewer criminals should be sent to prison.
"I think in order to protect the public, serious and persistent criminals need to be put in prison," he said.