You can listen to BBC Radio 4's thought provoking assessment of prisons here:
My book Doing Time talked about ways to stop reoffending, which as of 2010 was around 6 out of 10 prisoners reoffending within 12 months of release. The book is still available and the BBC did an assessment of it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-20270600
The cycle of crime, punishment and re-offending needs to be broken. I believe that working prisons and payment by results are a real step forward but Norway is the gold standard, since it boasts a re-offending rate of 20%, the lowest in Western Europe. But we need to change out attitude to crime and punishment as well.
Prisons appear to play a different role in Norway - less about punishment and more a place of rehabilitation. One in particular - Bastoy, an open prison on an island south of Oslo, where only 16% of released prisoners re-offend - has received widespread international attention. How far is its success attributable to the environment or a more humane philosophy? Guards are trained in criminology and psychology, and inmates enjoy a lifestyle described by critics as being like a "holiday camp" (despite the fact it is cheaper to run than most Norwegian prisons).
The programme asks - What is prison for, and what can we learn from Norway?
It is well worth listening to.