Well, part of the problem is too many laws. Practically every American commits a few felonies a day without knowing it. This is even more likely if they are currently working. All kinds of regulations you probably unknowingly violate on a daily basis. Everyone should read the book Three Felonies a Day. If the government wants to get you, they’ll get you for something, because you’ve done something.
Another problem is prison for nonviolent offenders. We need to decide what prison is for: is it for rehabilitation? For punishment? Or it is to keep society safe from predators? Right now, it’s all of those things, and none of those things. Depends on your crime. With white collar criminals, it’s almost always about retribution. White collar criminals have a low recidivism rate, and as long as they are no longer allowed to practice the career that originally got them in trouble, are no longer any threat to society whatsoever. So it’s pure revenge. With rapists and murderers, it’s about protecting society. With most other offenders, it’s about rehabilitiation. In theory.
I say prison should be reserved for violent offenders. Alternative punishments should be devised for the Bernie Madoffs and drug offenders, tax evaders and pickpockets. From a simple humanitarian perspective, it makes no sense to place nonviolent offenders in cages with animals who take joy in sadism.