Reforms of the criminal justice system are largely ineffective in cutting crime, an independent think tank says.
The Crime and Society Foundation, at King's College, London, says ministers should focus instead on tackling root causes such as poverty and sexism.
And it says crime rates are far higher than have been acknowledged, with few crimes leading to a conviction.
Last month Tony Blair said there was a gap between the criminal justice system and what the public expects.
The foundation says the government is trapped in a "policy cul-de-sac" of trying to raise conviction rates by improving criminal justice effectiveness.
But reforms had only a marginal impact, it said - and improving the standard of living would reduce crime far more effectively.
There was also a great need to tackle some men's attitude to women, it said.
It quoted one survey from 2000 which suggested 40% of men believed it would be acceptable to hit their partner for sleeping with another man and 20% for neglecting their children.
"Much violence suffered by some of the most vulnerable in our society will not begin to be addressed until the systemic misogyny and sexism of British society is confronted," the report said.
The think-tank made similar claims in 2004, when it criticised the government's use of the British Crime Survey as a measure, on the grounds that the findings do not cover all offences.
Richard Garside, the report's author, said: "Our levels of crime and victimisation reflect the way that we organise our society, not the relative toughness of our criminal justice system.
"The way to a safer and lower crime society lies in policies to reduce poverty, challenge sexism, and tackle concentrations of power.
"The criminal justice system is one of the least effective means of reducing and controlling crime."
The author argues that "most victims never get redress through the criminal justice system", adding: "The cross-party 'tough on crime' consensus is tough on victims too."
Last month the prime minister said that in a bid to rebalance the criminal justice system in favour of victims, the rights of suspects must not "outweigh" those of the "law-abiding majority".
Mr Blair argued "screaming" headlines had often prevented a rational debate on how to tackle crime.