This means that there's a great deal of prosecution of petty and minor crimes, including a huge number of convictions for drug offenses and for what amounts to "being poor". I'll add child support payments to this list: if the state sees a benefit in raising a child, why make that a burden on one specific individual, to the point of incarceration, particularly where circumstances may be less than clear (family law is like that). It's another area where decriminalization could very well have better results for all involved: less acrimonious court cases, better welfare for the child, and a lack of oppression on the alleged father.
Meantime: large and complex cases against those with means, whether drug kingpins, organized crime lords, or Wall Street bankers and traders (but I repeat myself) go under-prosecuted. The cases are more complex, yes, but the social harm presented also, IMO, greatly outweighs that of most petty crime.
Add in the psychological aspects of much crime, violent, white-collar, or otherwise, and there's a lot found wanting in the present US criminal and penal system.
Many moons ago one of the more interesting college courses I took was, of all things, a breadth-requirement literature class covering concepts of penal law. The reading included Michel Foucault, his book I, Pierre Riviere, Having Slaughtered my Mother, my Sister and my Brother, and Panopticon by Jeremy Bentham. It's proven to be one of the more serendipitously fascinating and relevant courses in my entire college career.
1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_foucault I don't recall the specific work, an his bibliography is sufficiently extensive that it has its own wikipedia page.
3. http://www.amazon.com/Pierre-Riviere-having-slaughtered-brot... Reading this casually in a cafe or other public setting can itself be an interesting anthropological study.
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