Bad idea: Florida pushes for military service instead of jail time

The “empty the jails” movement seems to be cropping up unexpectedly in Florida these days. Certain state legislators are looking for “creative alternatives” to prison for people convicted of certain nonviolent, “low-level” crimes. There’s nothing too unusual about that, sadly, because progressives have been pushing this concept all over the country in recent years. But the latest proposal comes with a disturbing twist. Rather than probation or home confinement, this new legislation would allow convicts the option of serving in the military rather than cooling their heels behind bars. Even if it were to be passed into law, the plan would likely run afoul of multiple roadblocks, but underneath it all, it’s just a bad idea. (WCTV)

State lawmakers are looking for creative alternatives to prison time for certain first time low level offenders.

One bill filed for the 2021 legislative session would provide the option of serving in the military instead of behind bars, but even if passed, the idea is likely to run into obstacles.

A first time offender, 25 or younger, who is facing convictions carrying up to four years in prison would have the option of serving in the military in lieu of prison time under the legislation.

As the linked article goes on to note, this proposal is problematic on several levels. First and foremost, all of the branches of the American military have much higher standards for recruits than were seen back during the Vietnam war. It’s true that judges offered to send the convicted to join the Army in some cases back then, but conditions are quite different today. It’s very difficult (if not impossible) to be accepted into the service with a criminal record involving anything more serious than the occasional traffic ticket. If you’ve been found guilty of something that merits serious prison time, they probably don’t want you. And it’s difficult to see how a single state could force the military to set aside those standards and take someone who wouldn’t otherwise qualify.

But even if they could, the only reason our all-volunteer military functions as well as it does is because everyone who is serving actively wanted to serve their country and jumped through all of the required hoops to earn the opportunity to do so. I highly doubt that many of them today would be thrilled with the idea of sitting in a foxhole with somebody who was only there because it was a better option than rotting in jail.

The Florida proposal specifies “nonviolent offenders,” but that leaves room for a lot of other types of crime. What if the person was guilty of theft? Do you want someone hanging around the barracks who has a propensity to steal? Would an arsonist be sent to serve in the military? People don’t magically stop being pyromaniacs just because you put them in a uniform, do they? Except in the (hopefully rare) cases of false convictions, people wind up in prison for a reason. And those reasons generally don’t define the sort of people that you would want to rely on to protect the nation.

If nothing else, we should consider the optics of a policy such as this and the impact it would have on the reputation of our armed forces. Do we really want to draw some sort of comparison where a stint in the Army, Navy or Air force could be viewed as the equivalent of sitting in jail for four years? Speaking as a veteran, I will say that it should be (and it is) an honor to serve your country. There’s nothing honorable about breaking the law to the point where you wind up behind bars.

I’m all in favor of rehabilitation for those offenders who truly seek redemption and want to reenter lawful society with everyone else. But there’s also nothing wrong with putting some reasonable restrictions on just how generous we need to be. And sending felons off to serve in uniform sounds like several bridges too far.

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