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!