This NYT story about the number of people imprisoned in the US and the efficacy of our booming prison industry got a lot of deserved attention today. I can't add to what's been written but I can point you to an interesting episode of This American Life, which looks at a production of Prison Performing Arts.
We devote this entire episode to one story: over the course of six months, reporter and TAL contributor Jack Hitt followed a group of inmates at a high-security prison as they rehearsed and staged a production of the last act—Act V—of Hamlet. Shakespeare may seem like an odd match for a group of hardened criminals, but Jack found that they understand the Bard on a level that most of us might not. It's a play about murder and its consequences, performed by murderers, living out the consequences.
You can listen to the whole episode, which touches on some of the issues raised by the NYT story, here.