April 21, 2008

New Data Show Military Has Recruited More Serious Ex-Offenders Than Previously Known

Pentagon list reveals reliance on sex offenders, kidnappers, arsonists

SANTA BARBARA, CA,  – New information released today by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee shows that in 2006 and 2007 Americans who were convicted of serious crimes including sexual offences, manslaughter, “terrorist threats including bomb threats”, burglary, kidnapping or abduction, aggravated assault and sexual assault were allowed into the military under moral waivers granted by the services.

According to the data given to the committee by the Department of Defense, the Army allowed the most waivers in 2006 and 2007. During this period, moral or felony waivers were given to 3 soldiers who had been convicted of manslaughter. One soldier was allowed in following a kidnapping or abduction conviction, 11 were convicted of arson, 142 convicted of burglary, 3 who were convicted of indecent acts or liberties with a child, 7 who were convicted of rape, sexual assault, criminal sexual assault, incest or other sex crimes and 3 who were convicted of terrorist threats including bomb threats.

In the Marines and Navy, waivers were granted for similar offenses. A full list of the data listed, by offense and by service, is available at the Palm Center website, palmcenterlegacy.org .   The Palm Center brought the issue of moral waivers to national attention when it released figures in 2007 showing that the number of convicted felons who were enlisted service-wide in the armed forces under the moral waivers program nearly doubled in three years.  Those figures are also available at palmcenterlegacy.org.

A moral waiver is granted to individuals who otherwise would not qualify for military service because of a criminal background.  Their increased use is part of a trend of lowering standards as the military tries to fill shortfalls by admitting ex-convicts, substance abusers and high school dropouts, and by relaxing standards for test scores and age and weight restrictions.

Dr. Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said the use of moral waivers is longstanding practice in the armed forces and that those who are released from jails and prisons have paid their dues.   “Everyone deserves a second chance,” he said, “but the new data show that the same vulnerable populations that are getting channeled into the prison-industrial complex are also high on the list for military recruiters.  This also begs the question,” he added, “of whether it makes sense for the military to fire perfectly competent gay and lesbian troops while manpower shortages remain so serious.”

The Palm Center’s data show that moral waivers rose from 824 in 2003 to 1605 in 2006.  Moral waivers overall (i.e. not just for felonies but for serious misdemeanors, illegal drug use and other crimes) in the Army increased from 4,918 in 2003 to 8,129 in 2006.   Beginning in 2004, a majority of Marine Corps recruits were enlisted through moral waivers. From 2003 to 2006, a total of 106,768 individuals with serious criminal histories were admitted.  Last week, the USA Today reported that use of moral waivers has increased again.  The total percentage of Army recruits admitted by moral waiver more than doubled from 4.6% in fiscal 2004 to 11% in fiscal 2007.   It has so far edged to 13% in fiscal 2008.