Greg & Billy,
I also agree that the GPS monitoring system with built in alarm would be a
viable alternative for some of what is currently covered by imprisonment, as
well as the need to isolate prisoners from criminal society. I wonder if it
wouldn't be better to decentralize prisons; build smaller facilities so to cut
down on the amount of interactions possible between offenders. I have been
debating the idea of how much connection with the outside world a prisoner
should have. Perhaps the best route would be to provide educational
programming, but not general entertainment. One concept I have toyed with is
in the case of murderers. Once the defendent is found guilty, this person
would have three options to choose from. One would be to voluntarily enter
into intensive rehabilitation, where he would remain until he was reformed
(using radical methods if necessary, as long as they were through informed
consent). Two, the prisoner could remain in near complete solitary, a form of social death where his only contact would be with an advocate jointly agreed to by the inmate and the court. There could be some amount of flexibility between these two, with the prisoner being able to opt to go from one to the other for a limited number of times (after which point the default would be solitary). The third option would be assisted suicide. The inmate would have to be certified as competent to make the decision, and undergo councilling aforehand, with perhaps a grace period between the time of requesting death and the actual suicide (perhaps as much as a year). Any time up until the actual act the inmate could opt out, but then to take this option the offender would have to undergo the whole process and waiting period again. The prisoner would also have a limited number of times to go between this option and the other two, after which the default would be solitary. The reason I suggest that the number of times the prisoner could vacillate between options is to prevent them from doing so in an attempt to work the system (get extra attention, break up the monotony, play mind games, etc.). Also, murderers could have all their assets seized and given to the survivors of their victims, especially dependents. There are pros and cons to such a system, and I don't know if I am satisfied with the concepts. Again, the default seems to be imprisonment.
Another option for future use might be to establish penal colonies for repeat violent offenders in other areas of the solar system, such as on the dark side of the Moon. These would be isolated from the rest of human society, perhaps run by AIs. Just an idea.....