When someone commits a crime, we want them punished. If wrongdoers go to prison more often and for longer, everyone seems happy. But we live in a system where people do eventually come out of prison and rejoin the community. And this is where what has happened to them in prison really starts to matter. If prisons are a rank breeding ground for recidivism, where drug use is unchecked and non-violent offenders are initiated into the criminal world, do you want someone who has spent time there living near you? Or would you rather see them going straight back to jail? As incarceration rates grow, if we want anyone who has been to jail to have a chance in life, maybe we need to look at a different approach: the kind of prison model that could make a killer a good neighbour.
Erwin James is a convicted murderer and Guardian journalist. James was released in August 2004 having served 20 years of a life sentence.