I'm currently over 3,000 miles away from Britain, in Boston. But I've watched this week's debate about the Government's proposed new ‘titan' prisons with particular interest - because I'm staying in a former jail.
When the Charles Street Jail was built in 1851 it was a state-of-the art facility and a model for prison reform. It introduced large windows for fresh air, well-lit work areas, private cells with heating and ventilation, and gas lamps for reading at night.
139 years later, conditions had deteriorated and the jail was overcrowded. A judge spent the night in one of the cells to see for himself and promptly ordered the jail to be closed. A modern new prison was built elsewhere, and today the original jail has been converted to the fantastic Liberty Hotel.
This is exactly what I plan to do with a large number of our English prisons. Overcrowded, many built in the Victorian age, often with inadequate space for work programmes: it's time to sell these anachronisms off and built new facilities in their place.
Not only would we get better prisons that could help to rehabilitate offenders, we could also create thousands more jail places to relieve overcrowding, at no cost to the taxpayer. And the old jails would make wonderful flats and hotels. One, in Oxford, has already been converted.
Some might say that our jails are too like hotels already. Certainly I don't have a playstation in my ‘cell' here, unlike many inmates in England. And can you imagine Ford prison being turned into a hotel? The guests would check out without paying their bill.
But warehousing offenders in the Government's proposed huge new ‘titan' jails, the biggest in Europe, is a bad idea. It's time for 21st century prison reform, to transform jails into places of hard work and restoration. That's the way to help offenders go straight - and so cut crime.