The history of prisons and methods of incarceration has been a subject of interest and popular distraction since the great European reform movement in the 19th century. Critics (e.g., Foucault 1977) have concentrated their efforts on demonstrating that the ends achieved in the design of prisons and methods of correction have had effects outside of the prison walls in the daily lives of free and innocent citizens, both in the loss of privacy due to increased police surveillance and in the creation of a population of criminals and personnel of the criminal justice system in an integrated culture. Whether we view a society regimented by a uniform ideology like the Soviet Union or one with a less systematic one like the USA, the effects are clear. This paper examines the practice and ideology of prisons, in historical context and in cross-cultural analysis. Worldwide incarceration of people takes up an increasing amount of state budgets and targets in many cases minorities or ethnic groups. This has economic effects on society at large and specifically those minorities as well as repressing the incomes of sectors of cities. Public health is impacted as is education and inequality enhanced. Prisons and punishment differ historically in the same culture and between cultures. The goal of punishment and discipline in society has many forms, to control certain populations, to enrich others and to define certain behaviors and people as dangerous. Inevitably we want to know, can we do without prisons in complex society? Is our system of punishment accelerating the collapse of social capital in America and social cohesion?