Set the prisoners free!
I have the not-so-radical belief that the modern prison system is far more cruel and less effective than traditional punishments or new alternatives.
The most dangerous murderers and serial offenders should be banished (or executed) for the sake of the rest of us. But even there, let them live somewhat normal lives, with enough invasion of their privacy to prevent escape and prevent them from masterminding crime. Let them be able so socialize, work, marry and so on. Would this be insufficient punishment? For murder, I agree, but I say we should execute most murderers. But our current prison system is not really deterrent enough, for it is very hard to deter crime. A better approach, given that many do not wish to execute, is to minimize the danger to others and maximize the possibility of rehabilitation.
Our current approach is despicable. Let's consider the worst offenders. We treat them with utmost hostility, with utmost hatred and disdain. We maximize our cruelty toward them, minimize their dignity and privacy, put them in tiny cells and isolate them so they may go insane, sometimes expose them to other hardened criminals so they have to fight to defend themselves, and so on. We pretend that this rehabilitates, but what it does, instead, is ruin men.
Lesser offenders are often treated just as badly, and the list of effects upon prisoners is far longer than this. Even lesser offenders tend to be in prison long enough to lose their outside relationships, lose their job, lose their reputation, lose their desire to succeed by normal means, lose their desire, if any, to conform, lose their love for their fellow man (if they had it), lose their home, and so on. Replacing these things is a new social network of hardened criminals full of criminal motivations, plans and ideas. How anyone imprisoned manages to be rehabilitated is beyond my imagination.
Just one of many ideas is to relocate some offenders to a more controlled community where they can live a semi-normal life, work to make restitution for their victims, and lose some of their privacy to prevent them from committing crimes during their rehabilitation. The goals of the offender should include saving enough money to relocate, learning skills, and obtaining employment or a living outside the controlled community.
The criminal record system alone is cruel enough to ruin many. With a conviction alone, some people are unable to continue in marriage, or raise their kids, or obtain employment.6
Our hatred of offenders is so great that we tend to oppose any rehabilitation efforts as "too soft". Thus, we spend immense sums of money to be cruel to people, thereby losing their contribution to the world and instead helping them down the road of crime, which then costs us more and causes us to hate them more.
This vicious cycle can be broken in the lives of many. Instead, overcome evil with good.