I have the view that when someone is convicted of a crime and their liberty is taken away that person is not fully repaying their debt to society unless they work off their sentence. A criminal sitting in jail is not being re-educated to become a citizen upon their release. They themselves are also not reinventing their own self-image. They are not redeeming themselves in any way. But if they were asked to work as if they were productive members of society then they would start to feel like contributing citizens who are repaying their debt especially if the proceeds for their work went partly to a) the victim of their crimes b) the policing services who caught them c) the court system who convicted them d) the prison services that house them and then perhaps a % could go towards their own income or that of their dependants. If they repay their other debts then they could keep the balance. The police, courts and prison services would have to estimate how much the convict had costs them. When they leave prison they would be in the routine and frame of mind of working for a living. They would attain working skills and experience and they would feel that they have repaid their debt to society. They are being punished by losing their liberty but losing their productivity is doing nobody any good least of all they themselves. Often, money can not undoe their crimes as far as their victims are concerned but their victims lives should be made easier where possible as if to at least try to rebalance the cause and effect of the crime. A large part of the policing, court and prison services could be paid by the criminal instead of being paid by the honest tax payer. A criminal may be swayed into giving themselves up earlier if they know that if they are caught later then the policing bill would be higher. They may also be swayed not to waste the court's time if they know they are to get the bill when they are eventually found guilty, something they currently have no conscience of at the moment.
The criminal could be given a range of choices as to how they repay their debt ie they could choose, to some extent, the jobthey do. They may get paid for something that they already have skills in. Obviously they would not have the range of choices that people in open society would have. They would still need to carry out their criminal life outside and away from society. They could not have a job involving being on the internet. Their work would need to be monitored. These factors would limit the types of jobs offered to criminals. Some training could be offered to those who wish to climb up in their pay rate.
Now, I would expect that some people may have something to say about this idea. Some may say that it can be percieved to be a form of slavery, something that strips a criminal of their human rights or their dignity. I would argue on each of these issues that not only is this idea better for society, better for the victims and the related services but it is also the best thing that could happen to the criminal. They would be putting their time and attention into redeem themselves. In their own minds they would be undoing their crime with each day they spent working and they would come out of it with something that resembled a clear conscience. The work they do would not be any more demeening than the work anybody else does. I am not talking about breaking rocks or anything, I am talking about matching jobs to skill sets and generally turning a negative into a positive. I do not see the downside.