Prison reform is gaining a lot of momentum in the US, which imprison many more people than any of European country. It's poor policy and bad economics, as both American Democrats and Republicans are arguing. For inspiration for other ways to think about the penal system, check out this New York Times Magazine piece on a Norwegian prison. The focus here is solely on helping inmates prepare for life outside of prison. The Norwegian Correctional Service's motto is "Better out than in" - certainly different than the current philosophy in the United States!
To anyone familiar with the American correctional system, Halden seems alien. Its modern, cheerful and well-appointed facilities, the relative freedom of movement it offers, its quiet and peaceful atmosphere — these qualities are so out of sync with the forms of imprisonment found in the United States that you could be forgiven for doubting whether Halden is a prison at all. It is, of course, but it is also something more: the physical expression of an entire national philosophy about the relative merits of punishment and forgiveness.