Moving on after a jail sentence is something many former prisoners find difficult - re-offending, housing and finding work all problems.
We asked five ex-offenders about their experiences. Click on the names below to read their comments in full.
I have been outside, but I don't like it
MICKY HAMMOND, 31, BASILDON: RELEASED FEBRUARY 2006
Micky's main priorities are finding a job, a place to live and avoiding a repeat of his past mistakes.
Prison is a 'very, very boring place'
He has been in prison "about 10 times" for driving offences, or theft "to get drugs", which he says he has stopped using.
The 31-year-old feels he has "wasted 10 years", including some away from his young daughter, but is confident that he can move on now.
"I'm not an old man - I can still achieve. I don't want the world, I just want to be comfortable and happy now."
He was released from Edmunds Hill jail, Suffolk, after serving a little over 10 months of a two-and-half year sentence for supplying drugs.
In jail Micky worked with the Foundation Training Company, which helps prisoners develop key skills, and gained qualifications in maths, English and IT.
"I had never used a computer before, but now I have IT skills and I can use it to find a job," he says.
There was also help with interview techniques, making a CV and writing job applications, "all things I have found very difficult in the past".
He hopes these new skills will bring him work labouring or in a warehouse, followed by the chance to move out of his mum's.
Until then money will be tight - he received the standard £47 discharge grant and has been helped by his mother.
There are also plans to take an evening class in IT but this, says Micky, will have to wait until his tag is removed in July.
For now evenings mean a 7.30pm curfew and watching TV with his girlfriend. It's not too exciting, but much better than being in prison.
"It's not a frightening experience, it's just a very, very boring place."
ANTHONY, 32, EAST LONDON: RELEASED JANUARY 2006
"My life before I went to prison was just fuelled on drugs and crime. I was robbing to get drugs and doing drugs to do crime," says Anthony, 32.
The former crack cocaine user, from Hackney, east London, was released on 5 January, having served about half of a four year sentence for robbery.
Anthony is finding life on his mum's sofa tough
Anthony plans to combine work as a fitness instructor with studies to become a counsellor for children in danger of making the same mistakes as him.
"I believe the time I spent in prison has made me the person I am today and will help me to help others."
Like Micky, Anthony, who was released from The Mount prison in Hertfordshire, received help from the Foundation Training Company, which gave him "the insight into how easy it is to get ahead by getting some skills".
Anthony says the contrast with the previous time he left prison, when he "did not know how to live in society", is clear.
This time he is enjoying making plans for the future and seeing his 12-year-old son and other family and friends.
But his wish to find a place of his own is hampered by a lack of money and the fact he is not a council housing priority.
"It's actually amazing to realise how stress free prison is. You have no housing worries, you get your food made. There's nothing to worry about.
"Having been in a single cell I was able to be a meticulous person. To come out and live on my Mum's settee with my clothes over the back is such a contrast."
'ALKISTIS', 30, NORTH WEST LONDON: RELEASED SEPTEMBER 2004
"People think you go to prison, you get punished and that's it," says Alkistis.
Having been sentenced to 18 months for possessing ecstasy with intent to supply, it will be 10 years before her record is wiped clean.
"Those are my most creative years, I want a job, I want a career and that makes it difficult," the 30-year-old says.
She is deeply worried about people finding out about her crime and struggles to imagine finding the work she wants as a translator.
"I did go to an interview, but I started crying and ran out ashamed," she says.
Alkistis moved to London from Greece after her parents found out she was gay.
She started "partying too much" instead of studying as planned and by the time she was arrested she was taking 50 ecstasy pills a week.
While Alkistis accepts her drug use was dangerous, she says she would rather have ended up in hospital than in prison.
During prison she felt "constantly suicidal" and self-harmed. She started taking anti-depressants and is still using them.
Prison was "hell", she says, her girlfriend's support essential. "I told her I would have killed myself without her. She wrote to me every day, she came to see me and helped me emotionally."
Released five months into her 18 month sentence and then tagged until December 2004, Alkistis remains uncertain about her future.
"I was very, very nervous and I still am. I'm very tearful, I cry a lot."
'EVELYN', 48, NORTH WEST LONDON: RELEASED 1980
Evelyn's last prison sentence ended more than 25 years ago, but she considers jail something which has shaped her life.
"Being in prison did me a lot of harm, I saw women slash their wrists, be taken out of their cells to be put in straight jackets," she says.
"I can still see it now, I can hear all the screaming and shouting."
After leaving prison she left her abusive partner, and moved from Scotland to London with her child.
Although she was able to stay with a friend, with whom she eventually started a relationship and had more children, Evelyn remembers it as a very difficult time with little support.
"It was hard for me because I had to leave my friends and my family behind," she says.
Evelyn says she has never worked because she focused on her role as a mother and she feared people would see the scars left on her arms by self-harm.
But she feels "empowered" by having recently completed a course to be a mentor for other women leaving prison and hopes to be able to help them stay out of trouble.
"To see even one person come through and not offend again and take my advice and look at their lives seriously would be a success."
'ALAN', 52, CHELMSFORD PRISON: EXPECTING RELEASE IN APRIL
"When you are first sentenced you are frightened because you don't know what to expect, but over the years you get quite accustomed to it," says Alan.
Alan has struggled to get on outside prison
In all, he has spent about 35 years in jail, consisting of "mainly short sentences for driving offences".
Chelmsford Prison, where he is being held, is nothing new to him either. He has been spending time there for the past 32 years and has come to count some warders as friends.
While he does not like the word "institutionalised" he accepts that, in many ways, he is.
Of those times following release, he says: "I go and see my brother and sister and they try to help me as much as possible, but there's only so much help you can give."
Alan says the amount of time between his sentences has grown longer, but he finds life outside prison difficult - simple things like signing on too complicated to bother with.
He is pleased to see changes that will benefit younger prisoners, however.
"Chelmsford has changed for the better for people coming in for the first or second time - they have got TVs now and more education."
It would be better to be living outside prison, Alan says, but being inside is something he is used to.
"I don't regret it because it's the only way I have been able to live. I have been outside, but I don't like it."
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
Perhaps the realisation of life after prison, and how difficult it is perceived to "get on", taken from the above ex-prisoner accounts, may well send a clear message and act as a deterrent to those who are considering criminal activity.
Rob, Bury, Lancs
I would not mind if prisons were really for dangerous criminals, however incarcerating a person for non-payment of tax or fines or minor offences is a ridiculous waste of tax payers money. Instead there should be an option of enforced community service that would actually give the person some new skills and save money.
Eddie Dinnage, Nottingham, UK
This makes it sound like these people are the victims. Prison is meant to be a punishment of sorts and if these people are having a hard time afterwards then they shouldn't have committed the offences in the first place.
Just as bankruptcy helps no-one in the end, prison is equally destructive to all involved. Criminality is always a sign of underlying problems and locking people away with little to do does little or nothing to solve that. Institutions for the mentally ill have been closed in favour of help in the community - surely it's time for the criminal justice system to go the same way.
Chris, Broadstairs, Kent
Having served six months in Bullingdon my experiences taught me to distrust institutions and authority. Luckily I had the wits/good fortune to build a career in IT under my own steam. However, as Alan says, prison only scares you the first time and had things been different I am sure the severity of my crimes would have increased and even today I have to control the survival instincts I acquired inside.
Committing a crime is not compulsory. Only people themselves make the decision to commit a crime or not. Any other factors do not enter into this equation. I feel no sympathy for them. It is the victims of crime that have my sympathy and all to often they are the forgotten element in a crime.
My partner came out of prison five years ago and has found it nearly impossible to get a good job. He can only get low paid temporary work, as people get scared off when he (as he has to) declares his record. It impacts on his self esteem, and holds back his life. I wish employers would realise that ex-prisoners have a huge amount to offer society, and most of the time nothing to fear.
Lou, London, UK
Prison is an obsolete, inhumane drain on taxpayers' money. Only people who are a genuine threat to others should be locked up. The concept of 'punishment' for grown adults is ridiculous. Being tried and found guilty and having that on public record is punishment enough.
John O'Leary, Hoofddorp Netherlands
I'm a prison officer and I agree with the comment above regarding prison being an obsolete drain on the taxpayers money. Our prisons are full to bursting point, yet reconviction rates are also going through the roof. Whilst in prison, prisoners lead a relatively 'stress-free' existence, while we try and work on the reasons why they have offended... only to release them (in most cases) to the same area and the same situation that led to them offending in the first place.
Mel Jeffs, Stoke-on-Trent
Prison acts as a deterrent to not commit a crime. I for one do not want to go to prison, to be tarred as a criminal, to be away from my family for any period of time. Therefore I do not break the law. Take away imprisonment as a punishment for committing a crime, and there is no deterrent, so I would be tempted!
As the victim of a violent robbery during which I was sure I was going to be killed, I have little sympathy for criminals. Rehabilitation through useful work in prison - yes, of course. Comfort, TV and good food - no.
Peter Foulds, Poland
Until we have a system in place where we educate offenders & therefore enable them to address the issues of employment & housing on release, recidivism will continue to rise.
I have been a criminal barrister for 25 years, prosecution and defence. I have also been a victim of violent crime. People who commit anti-social acts know that they will be punished if they get caught and cannot complain.... Most prisoners know they are antisocial and many are receptive to change. My attitude is help them to change. If we want a healed society we must heal the individuals.
Robert Good, Harare, Zimbabwe
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