Prisoners should be spending 40 hours a week training or working, according to thinktank Onward.
In a new report, the organisation suggests that this would cut reoffending rates.
The recommendation will be presented to prisons minister Robert Buckland today – and already has the backing of other MPs and businesses.
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According to Onward, despite ministers promising a rehabilitation revolution, "purposeful activity" in prisons has been falling since 2012.
Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures showed that between 2016-17 and 2017-18, the proportion of prisons receiving a positive rating for purposeful activity fell from 50 per cent to 43 per cent – with the latest annual report from the chief inspector of prisons saying that "around half of prisons had too few places for the population and even these were often unfilled".
The thinktank has also claimed that the justice system does little to prepare prisoners for life after release in the wake of MoJ figures which said that just 17 per cent of prisoners are in a steady, paid job a year after prison.
Drawing comparisons with Norway – where the report says that prisoners must take part in full-time training and are said to get more work after release – the thinktank has called for laws to be changed so employers can use their apprenticeship levy to hire prisoners.
Onward also wants to see better links between prisons and businesses to help inmates prepare for release and find work.
Will Tanner, director and co-author of the report, called for prisons to be transformed from holding pens into training centres
"Prisons are, rightly, places of punishment, but they should also be places of training and work. It does victims no favours for prisoners to be stuck in their cell all day, rather than head-down in a classroom or workshop learning the skills to sustain a steady job.
"Ministers have identified work as a route out of crime, but they must go further – and enlist the willing support of Britain's businesses to transform prisons from holding pens into training centres," he said.
Robert Halfon, former education minister and chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, said: "We must make sure that everyone has access to the educational ladder of opportunity, particularly those in prisons, to ensure proper rehabilitation, transform lives and improve our society."
Last year, the MoJ launched a jobs plan in a bid to cut the £15 billion annual cost of reoffending.
The strategy has given governors greater control over education in prison and saw a vocational training route launched so offenders have a guaranteed job on release, the MoJ said.
Last month, governors were given more power to grant release on temporary licence, a department spokesman said.
More than 230 businesses have registered to work with prisons and help offenders find employment since the plan was introduced, the MoJ said.