The question we should be asking as a nation is not: 'how can we create the harshest punishments?', it is 'what do we want to get out of our prison system?' There are several answers to this question, on the one side there is: 'packaged meat', 'broken men/women', 'angry, radicalized, beaten criminals', 'people who have learned to hate the world', 'people who can't live outside prison walls anymore', etc. and on the other side there is: 'people who feel better for the time they've served', 'people who are more prepared than ever to live in society as it is', 'people who have learned something about themselves and are excited for the opportunity to have a positive impact on the world', etc. Personally, being a selfish Westerner, I would prefer to move towards a prison system that works to produce people who feel better prepared to live in society and want to contribute to the world through their work. I know this is an idealization, but it's definitely more realistic than we pretend. Most people who become criminals are never given the educational opportunities that would allow this mindset to develop on its own, (or they were born black and targeted by police/stop and frisk). Most people who don't pursue a criminal lifestyle have been presented with circumstances that allowed them to find a reason to pursue goals and ambitions within the legal boundaries, and that's one of the biggest differentiators (besides skin color). We have a huge problem with our legal justice system: a lack of funding for public defenders, an overabundance of police in black neighborhoods, an incentive for private corporations to fill beds which is passed on to courts and police, an incentive for private corporations and police to produce worse criminals each time they release someone, a criminal record being used as a deterrent for hiring someone, a well established social mindset about the difference between criminals and citizens that is rooted in slavery, racism, class warfare, and propaganda focusing on only the least common violent offenders etc. but many of these things could be changed if not completely fixed if our prison systems existed to serve prisoners with resources for their return to society, rather than just to ensure their return to prison.