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Military Rightsizing

James Joyner gathers up a series of seemingly conflicting stories about reductions in military force in some branches and shortages of reservists in others.

I heard an interesting idea today; one that I'm sure has been floated from time to time, but still a novel social engineering concept.

A vast untapped resource for military service is the nations prison population, or more specifically those about to enter the system. The prison system is (by any measure) an abject failure at reform and rehabilitation - so much so that those missions are hardly ever discussed anymore. In contrast, the military has a storied reputation for taking juvenile delinquents and others heading down the wrong path in life, and making productive, respectful citizens out of them.

If defendants were given an option of serving military time instead of prison time (assuming they met all of the other enlistment requirements) we would be solving two problems at the same time. Not only would a the criminal become a productive member of society, they would also have a future (via continued service) once their sentence was up. The motivation to stay on the straight and narrow would be pretty powerful - a return trip to prison.

Considering the money we spend per year, per prisoner with no return and no likelihood of decreased recidivism I'd be willing to let the military have a crack at the job.

Update: Here's an interesting article from 2000. The military was having a hard time meeting quotas in the tech boom days, so they loosened their standards and started accepting more felons (actually it's more like accused felons), so it's not like this is an unprecedented move. You could craft a criteria similar to the recruiting standards they followed in 2000 for use now. The pool of potential conscripts would be smaller, but still sufficient for the needs of the various services.


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Comments (18)

By George that's a brillian... (Below threshold)

By George that's a brilliant idea! I wonder where the line would be drawn that dictates which crimes a criminal would be eligible for military service. You could probably guess that murderers and child molesters and the such wouldn't get a chance, but it would be great for petty thiefs and those on drug charges.

Sorry to bust your bubble, ... (Below threshold)

Sorry to bust your bubble, but it doesn't work that well. At least not with my stepbrother. He had a choice between service and jail, he chose Army. He is still not what one would consider a model citizen.

I've known several other people who were given that choice. Seems like it was an easy out for them.

The discipline criminals wo... (Below threshold)

The discipline criminals would receive in the military would certainly be better than letting them fester in a jail cell. Having a senior NCO yell at you till your ears bleed can be very motivating.

This one gets bandied about... (Below threshold)
El Jefe:

This one gets bandied about ever few years and as a recently retired military man I have to say, "NO!"

Do you REALLY want f**k-ups in the military? This was done up until the late '70s when the DoD got tired of taking in any jackass. Our ALL VOLUNTEER military is the greatest in the world. One of the reasons is that we DO NOT allow someone to join instead of serving time. There are military-style jails out there and they are the ones instilling discipline.

Please keep my military the way it is (and has been for the last 20+ years).

I heard a different idea ba... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

I heard a different idea bandied around, that pairs military shortages with a different problem -- illegal immigration.

The idea was to set up a "Foreign Legion" program where aliens (who met the military's criteria, of course) served a certain term in the service (I think four years, but it can be negotiated) and then, if they were honorably discharged, they were granted citizenship. Anything less than that, and they were summarily deported and banned from re-applying for ten years or so.

Serving in our armed services is a privilege now, something to be earned. Reducing it to an alternative to jail didn't do that much good before, in the days of the draft, and I doubt it'd do much good now.


First - do we really want t... (Below threshold)

First - do we really want to give criminals weapons and expect them to have honor and discipline? I'm pretty sure that there is a fairly large percentage of recidivist criminals in our prison population that would not hesitate to take the opportunity to shoot there CO and disappear into Switzerland.

Second - if this were to happen, these guys should be signed up for tours of duty including - Human Bomb Missions, Human Shield Missions, and the best - Substitute Torture Victim Missions - we should trade out real POW citizens with criminals.

It seems to me this would h... (Below threshold)

It seems to me this would have a rather perverse unintended consequence: Lowering the esteem of the military. Why would any decent citizen want to join an organization that is a warehouse for punishing criminals? Everyone wearing a uniform, certainly any junior enlisted person, would be looked at as a probable crook.

As a Senior NCO in the Air ... (Below threshold)

As a Senior NCO in the Air Force I have one question:

How about all you folks who think this is a great idea, intervene for a criminal and become responsible for their actions from here on out?

(Deafening silence.)

Yeah...that's what I thought.

As a retired Chief Petty Of... (Below threshold)

As a retired Chief Petty Officer, I'm 100% with Timmer on this one.

My opinionated $.02:<... (Below threshold)

My opinionated $.02:

This is an awful, awful idea.

You think Abu Ghraib was a mess? Wait until you give crackheads, thieves and certified thugs that kind of responsibility. Not to mention the number of Tim McVeighs and John Mohammeds it'd produce.

Plus, isn't that kind of -- you know -- insulting to insinuate that our military should be used as a dumping ground for people who couldn't hack it in civilian life? That has to be awful for morale and for the quality of our units.

Well, I don't know if we ne... (Below threshold)

Well, I don't know if we need a program for it, but I do know that it happens from time to time.

Good friend of mine in the Navy joined because the other option was jail. Not a dangerous guy. Just of bunch of juvenile drinkin' & troublemakin'.

He got in, signed up with the Navy's Nuclear Power Program, and became a decent, respectable, and trustworthy NCO.

For non-violent criminals, I think the military is a good way to give them the discipline & direction that's sorely lacking in their lives.

Actually, that's true for non-criminals (like myself), too.

El Jefe has it right. We... (Below threshold)

El Jefe has it right. We currently have a professional military, trained to use some rather sophisticated weapons and support systems. The demands on our soldiers will go up, not down, in the future. Adding ill-motivated, often ill-educated, convicted criminals to the mix would be a disaster.

The "army as reform school" approach had some usefulness when grunts was grunts, but in today's military it would be very counter-productive.

Who would you want watching... (Below threshold)

Who would you want watching your back in armed combat? I would not feel safe knowing thugs and petty thieves were protecting our country.

Abu Ghraib would be a pimpl... (Below threshold)

Abu Ghraib would be a pimple on the acne of the earth these malcontents would unleash. Talk about war crimes... who better than criminals.

Has anyone considered the p... (Below threshold)

Has anyone considered the possibility of utilizing nonviolent offenders in a work-release program that involves non-armed support positions in the military, with a potential for voluntary full military service after their term of sentence is up? Seems a better alternative than having them sitting in a cell, being a burden on the state's budget, and you may accidentally make productive citizens out of some of them.

Of course, I'm also for using lifers and death row inmates as land-mine detectors.

El Jefe, Sandcrab, and Timm... (Below threshold)

El Jefe, Sandcrab, and Timmer speak from experience - listen to them.

I retired in 2001.(USNavy) The Navy spent the better part of the eighties weeding out the mal-contents, drug addicts [1983 40% tested positive for drugs. today its is about 1-2%], mother rapers, and father rapers. Now hear this: It should NEVER AGAIN happen.

You need an alternative? Modify Kerry's idea. (not that I suppoet anything he says) Kerry "claims" he would support a type of public service [one or two years] for kids leaving high school.

Allow that service to be in the military. Not combat, but at home only, in supply, admin type jobs. It would earn them money, {give the same college benifits as regular military)and free up military personel to serve in jobs elsewhere in the world.

Jesus Christ, I've never be... (Below threshold)

Jesus Christ, I've never been in the military, but this idea gives me the willies. There might be something to the idea that a person can try to turn his life around of his own accord, and the military might be able to help him if there's a decent human being somewhere. But this? Turning the military into an alternative to jail? No, no, no, and no.

Today's military isn't just a dumping ground. It's not a place where you just put people, hand them a gun, and point them at the enemy. It's a highly professional force full of individuals who are not merely "grunts," but individuals who must not merely wage war but act as ambassadors abroad.

Just take Iraq, for example. You've got civilian populations that are actively hostile, throwing things at soldiers, shouting, yelling, but not attacking physically. Think about that for a moment. These soldiers are dealing with people who are hostile but not attacking. They're just daring the soldier to turn his hardware on a civilian populace.

How many of these (allegedly former) criminals would be willing to point a weapon at the civilians, open fire, and cause an international incident? A lot of them, I argue.

Today's soldier -- from a four-star general to a freshly trained private -- has to be resilient enough to let the epithets roll off his skin. He has to be smart enough to realize that there are consequences if he resorts to violence. He has to know that his ego is less important than success in the mission. How does he learn this? Through a combination of training, screening, recruitment, and leadership.

You're not going to get that if you start dumping petty criminals in the military forces.


Active-duty Air Force for 1... (Below threshold)

Active-duty Air Force for 17 years -- and I 100% agree with Timmer, El Jefe, and the others who maintain that this would be a VERY BAD IDEA. All of the reasons that they stated are accurate.

Break the law -- do the time. DO NOT reward criminals with the privilege of wearing the uniform of the United States military.






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