I came by an article today from 1985 (find it here: Computer Hacking and Ethics by Brian Harvey University of California, Berkeley).
Here's the few paragraphs that stuck with me:
In the context of computer systems, there is a similar dichotomy. There are some career criminals who steal by electronic means. This small group poses a large problem for society, but it's not a new one. Thieves are thieves. Just as banks use special armored cars, they must also develop special armored computer systems. But the rest of us don't use armored cars for routine transportation, and we don't need armored computer systems for routine communication either. (Of course there is a large middle ground between heavy security and no security at all. My purpose here is not to decide exactly what security measures are appropriate for any particular computer system. Instead, I just want to make it clear that, while in this paper I'm not trying to address the problem of professional criminals, I'm not trying to deny that there is such a problem either.)
To bring forward some modern day context, in my country/state joyriding can carry up to 5 years in prison, while the hacking equivilent is up to 2 years in prison.
Maybe things have improved? I don't know. If memory serves me people usually get charged with way more computer offence than should actually be applicable (though this is wholly conjecture on my part without any more research)
There is also a middle ground between the young person who happens to break unimportant rules in the innocent exercise of intellectual curiosity and the hardened criminal. Consider the hypothetical case of a young man whose girlfriend moves to Australia for a year, and so he builds himself a blue box (a device used to place long distance telephone calls without paying for them) and uses it to chat with her for an hour every other day. This is not intellectual curiosity, nor is it a deliberate, long-term choice of a life of crime. Instead, this hypothetical adolescent, probably normally honest, has stepped over a line without really noticing it, because his mind is focused on something else. It would be inappropriate, I think, to pat him on the head and tell him how clever he is, and equally inappropriate to throw him in prison. What we must do is call his attention to the inconsistency between his activities and, most likely, his own moral standards.
Advocating for lighter sentences for nonviolent crime is a good thing in my opinion. An interesting hypothetical the author introduced, the distinction between a one-off crime and a choice to live through crime is one usually left up to the discretion judge and/or jury here.
Anyway, though you guys might like a short read.