WASHINGTON - More recruits with criminal records, including felony convictions, are being allowed to join the Army and Marine Corps as the armed services cope with a dwindling pool of volunteers.There are 1,750,000 American men in prisons nationwide. Many, if not most, are for low-level drug crimes like marijuana possession on the "Three Strikes" and "Rockefeller" laws, or as Arlo Guthrie once said, "I'm sittin here on the Group W bench 'cause you want to know if I'm moral enough join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after bein' a litterbug?"
The military routinely grants waivers to take in recruits who have criminal records, medical problems or low aptitude scores that would otherwise disqualify them. Most are moral waivers, which include some felonies, misdemeanors and traffic and drug offenses.
Defense Department statistics show that the number of Army and Marine recruits needing waivers for felonies and serious misdemeanors, including minor drug offenses, has grown since 2003.
The number of felony waivers granted by the Army grew from 411 in 2003 to 901 in 2006, according to the Pentagon. Other misdemeanors, which could be petty theft, writing a bad check or some assaults, jumped from about 2,700 to more than 6,000 in 2006.
Army and Defense Department officials defended the waiver program as a way to admit young people who may have made a mistake early in life. They said two-thirds of the waivers granted by the Marines are for drug use, because they, unlike other services, want a waiver if someone has been convicted of marijuana use.
Now, I can understand there's a shortage of volunteers for the war in Iraq, and the obvious solution, bringing the troops home, is not going to fly in a country where 25% of the people can dictate the foreign policy and possible nuclear annihilation of the rest of the country, but how smart is it that we'll allow real criminals into our armed forces alongside some of these people who were abused by a system designed to jail them for infractions that other countries, at worst, hand out a fine for?