Prisons are central to the fight against crime, but are frequently overcrowded and criticised for failing to prevent repeat offending.
As part of our series on the role of jails in the UK, six commentators give their views about what the institutions should be like by 2016.
Click on the names below to read their comments in full.
ERWIN JAMES - EX-PRISONER AND AUTHOR OF A LIFE INSIDE
More than once during my 20 years in prison I heard prisons described as hate factories.
Whilst its true that a prison can achieve many positive outcomes, nobody can deny that in general they are places that breed hatred and bitterness.
Officially, a prison is termed a "hostile environment", dominated by authoritative mechanisms of control, order and discipline.
This links into our understanding of people who go to prison as being "bad", and deserving punishment.
Yet I learned from my experience that the people who make up the majority of a prison population are the most damaged and needy among us.
As far as I could see, subjecting such people to punitive attitudes and conditions served no rational purpose.
Prisons are a valuable community resource, as valuable as schools or hospitals. As such we should be using them to effect reconciliation, restoration and healing.
That's what we should be aiming for in 10 years, though I fear it will take nearer 50.
DEE EDWARDS, MOTHERS AGAINST MURDER AND AGGRESSION
I would like to see fewer prisoners, except for violent prisoners, who I want locked up for life.
The ideal is not to build lots of prisons, but to have a mass education programme.
People guilty of crimes like murder or manslaughter should be in prison for a long time
There are some really good projects in schools, where pupils learn there's a different way to live and to avoid violence.
We already know that there are lots of high risk prisoners out there and the probation service doesn't know about people's movements.
You have to have a lot more funding in the probation service and a lot more staff.
The probation service is completely overstretched and [Home Secretary] Charles Clarke's answer to that is that he wants to privatise it. There's already not much communication between different areas at the moment and how is that going to help?
The rights of the victims have to be most important.
If we're going to have a system where people come out of prison it has to be for crimes like non-payment of fines or graffiti.
People guilty of crimes like murder or manslaughter should be in prison for a long time. If that means building more prisons, so be it.
FRANCES CROOK - HOWARD LEAGUE FOR PENAL REFORM
The number of men, women and children held inside prisons should be reduced from more than 75,000 now to less than 20,000 serious and violent offenders.
Everyone else should be based in the community so they can make amends and be supported to change their lives.
Prisons should be part of the community, providing a safe and constructive life for staff and prisoners, linking closely with families.
Local businesses should employ prisoners on real wages so they can support families, make reparation and prepare for release.
Prisons should be busy, active places, open to public scrutiny and serving the public.
LESLEY PULMAN - ASBO CAMPAIGNER
The people spending the money look at how many people are in prison, but I don't think numbers are important - it should be about crime.
The punishment should fit the crime, it's as simple as that. People in communities have to see justice.
It's nothing to do with being vindictive, ordinary people need to be protected and see the system working in their favour.
If that means more people in prison in 10 years, then so be it.
Saying you can't have more people in prison because there's not enough places is like telling someone on the NHS they can't have an operation because there's no money.
It does not take away the need for an operation and it's the same for a victim - there may not be enough prison places, but people still need to be helped.
Instead of people getting time off for good behaviour I would like to see people get extra time for bad behaviour.
I don't think you would need to do that for very long, because it would be a deterrent and people would stop breaking the law.
It should be part of prison that people learn to read and write, because they would get better job opportunities.
CHANDRA FOWLER - REVOLVING DOORS AGENCY
I would like to see only 10% of the current number of children in prison.
The way children are treated in prison is a huge problem - it does not meet their needs. We should be thinking more about community sentences for them.
There are also a huge number of people with mental health problems and too many with learning difficulties in prison.
A lot of the time crime is the result of such issues and a lack of support, so more people should have their problems addressed in the community.
If prisons had far fewer prisoners, it would reduce the pressure on the prison system.
People could be kept closer to their homes instead of being sent rights across the country.
Links with families and friends are really important if prisoners are going to have a chance of coming back to society.
I would also like to see better access for health and addiction services.
Prison should be kept for dangerous and persistent offenders.
JONATHAN AITKEN - EX-PRISONER AND EX-CONSERVATIVE MP
I would like to see prisons which are less crowded and place far more emphasis on rehabilitation.
In particular I would like to see prisons which give a far higher priority to educational opportunities, particularly in the field of literacy and basic educational skills.
I was shocked at the scandal, during my own sentence, that one third of prisoners in the average UK jail can't read or write at all.
I also believe prisoners should have proper work and that the prison service should fulfil its long promised objective to give every prisoner four hours of "purposeful activity" each day. This target has not been met for the past 10 years.
I think prisons must overhaul both the detection of drugs and the thorough enforcement of drug regulation laws
Far greater attention must be paid to after care for prisoners, in the interest of reducing the present unacceptable reoffending rate.
Here are a selection of your comments on the story. The debate is now closed.
For the last thirty years, we've been going down the road of penal reform and pandering to the rights of prisoners and for thirty years we've watched this country degenerate into a place where decent people are afraid to walk the streets. It simply isn't working. The connection is just irrefutable. Punishment should be swift and harsh and prisons so unpleasant that no-one will wish to return.
Brian McCaig, Paisley, Scotland
The problems with prisons are they are to much like hotels. There is too much emphasis on the right envrionment for a prisoner. It is the victims who suffer. Prisoners should only be entitled to one meal a day, studies have shown it is possible for humans to survive on water. Television at set hours. Sports and leisure, only if they are willing to pay for their own equipment and coaching. Prisoners need to be treated like prisoners. These may sound like drastic measure but that is the situation the victims of crime face.
I think we lock people up for spite rather than the good of the society; Only dangerous guilty people should be locked up, far too many are in our prisons that are neither.
Ian Blades, Teesside
The prison should put much emphasis on parole system as one of the measures to curb overcrowding in prisons. The prisoners who commit simple offences are not supposed to be in prison, rather they should be employed in community sector, that will be beneficial to the society. Moreover, the young offenders who are the future members of the society, should not be mixed up with the adults in order to avoid "social contamination"
Anselm Balyaruha, Kayanga, Karagwe, TANZANIA
The UK is the only country in Europe that locks up in prison so many people (mostly professionals) for economic crimes when these people have already lost their livelihood their money and most times their families by the time they get to court. Why not use them for assisting in educating and rehabilitating violent offenders who should be in less crowded prisons.
P. G. Papanikitas, Athens, Greece
I am sick and tired of liberal do-gooders like Frances Crook saying that prison doesn't work because it doesn't prevent repeat offending. Prisons work. They prevent OFFENDING and protect the law-abiding majority. It is releasing offenders too soon that causes repeat crime. If we need to double the prison population then so be it.
Dave, Suffolk, UK
The answer is quite simple, make prisons a punishment rather than a not too disagreeable place for offenders to be removed to out of society. Prisoners should endure some hardship and be given their full sentences if they do not undertake their drug rehabilitation courses; at the moment most prisoners will serve half or two-thirds of their term at the most.
Prison is seen as an easy life, look at the prisons in the USA, punishment for crime is just that. We seem to think sending a prisoner to a holliday camp is punishment.
Brian Betts, Bedford England
Prisons have always been seen as the fault behind prisoners re-offending, whilst the real reason lies at the door of those who choose to re-offend. Law abidding citizens have a right to live in a protecting society. If people choose to commit crime habitually then perhaps they ought to spend their lives behind bars and give the vast majority of law-abidding people of this land some respite.
Andrew Fowden, Manchester