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March 29, 2012

The Machinery of Criminal Justice #6: Military Service, Education, Treatment

[Stephanos Bibas, guest-blogging]

In my last guest-blog post about my new book, I suggested making prison more pro-social by requiring able-bodied convicts to work. In today's post, I'll extend the idea, first by suggesting military service for convicts without serious violent tendencies or major disabilities.

Throughout history, many societies have sentenced convicts to military service, offering them a concrete way to work off their debts and earn freedom. Currently, however, most of the American military services forbid enlistment as an alternative to criminal prosecution or as a form of punishment. The rigors of military service are vivid and easy to visualize: think of boot camps, with bugles at dawn, shouting drill sergeants, and strenuous calisthenics. The public sees military service as rigorous, demanding labor. Yet these rigors would be productive and prosocial, inculcating work habits and discipline that wrongdoers often lack.

Now, readers from both sides of the political spectrum will doubtless object. Those on the left may complain that military service would put defendants in harm's way and degrade them. Those on the right may fear that using military service would demean the honorable service of law-abiding men and women who choose to serve their country. And military leaders might well resist the change, both for reasons of honor and for concerns about administering unruly convicts.

But a properly crafted program could allay all three sets of concerns. To satisfy those on the right, prisoners would be compelled to join, not free to choose. They would come in at lower ranks and lower wages than ordinary enlistees. Garnishment and restitution would further reduce their take-home pay, and GI Bill benefits would not vest for some time. They could wear different uniforms and enjoy fewer privileges, by for example being confined to base. They would have to endure the lowliest of jobs, even cleaning latrines, and suffer push-ups and other punishments for the smallest infractions. In other words, prisoners would not start out equal.

On the other hand, those on the left might note that the military has one of the best records of racial equality and meritocratic advancement in America. Integrating minority prisoners into the military, full of minority officers, would be far less vulnerable to charges of racism than exiling them to prisons. Integrating prisoners into barracks would also reduce the crmiminogenic clumping and self-segregation that prisons breed. Any harms faced would be prosocial, in the service of their country and as payment of their debts to society, offsetting the harms they threatened or caused to others.

Any humbling would be productive and temporary. Inmates could prove themselves and in time earn promotions and restoration to full equality, including equal rank, pay, and benefits. After a time, their families could come to live with them on military bases, helping to reintegrate them. Convicts would learn productive, marketable skills, and employers view military service as a valuable credential, paving the way for reentry and future employment.

Military leaders might note that military service in lieu of criminal punishment has a long history and has hardly dishonored the law-abiding soldiers who served alongside wrongdoers. At least if one screens out problem candidates, the disciplinary problems have historically been manageable and may have been improved by the structure, rigor, and sense of purpose in military life.

Nevertheless, the military almost certainly will resist being asked to take on a social purpose in addition to fighting wars and defending against attacks. Moreover, the current all-volunteer ethos of the American military may conflict with effectively drafting convicts. If military opposition proves insurmountable, the military could at least repeal its bans and selectively admit convicts who are most compatible with military life. Or one could experiment with creating a civilian analogue to the military, something like the Civilian Conservation Corps, with uniforms, ranks, strict discipline, and a mission, to build character and skills.

That's all for now. In my next post, I'll discuss other possible measures to facilitate reentry.

Stephanos Bibas, guest-blogging

March 29, 2012 at 10:25 PM | Permalink

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"But a properly crafted program could allay all three sets of concerns. To satisfy those on the right, prisoners would be compelled to join, not free to choose. They would come in at lower ranks and lower wages than ordinary enlistees. Garnishment and restitution would further reduce their take-home pay, and GI Bill benefits would not vest for some time. They could wear different uniforms and enjoy fewer privileges, by for example being confined to base. They would have to endure the lowliest of jobs, even cleaning latrines, and suffer push-ups and other punishments for the smallest infractions. In other words, prisoners would not start out equal."

The unreality of this quote is striking. I've cleaned the head (the Navy term for latrine) many times--it's not punishment--it's work, and there's nothing lowly about it. And physical training as punishment? Really? That's nothing when you're young. And how are you going to have an esprit de corps when you have second-class citizens in the ranks, with all the resentment that builds.

The military is good at instilling discipline in basically good people who made a few mistakes. It's not a place for any serious criminals.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 29, 2012 11:04:24 PM

The transition to an all-volunteer force was not an easy one, I can't imagine how difficult bringing in a third tier lower than dirt set of soldiers would be. Especially if you are going to go out of your way to set them apart rather than try to get them on the program.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Mar 30, 2012 12:12:40 AM

They would come in at lower ranks than ordinary enlistees? Lower than E-!? With different uniforms to boot? What an utterly moronic idea. Talk about undermining good order, discipline and unit cohesion! This idea is an absolute recipe for disaster. Back to the ol' drawing board, professor.

Posted by: alpino | Mar 30, 2012 2:26:22 AM

See and I have a completely different perspective. Why wouldn't the military want convicts with a violent past. Isn't that military do? Violence. Seems to me these guys would be good cannon fodder. I've always wondered if we wouldn't have won the war in Vietnam if we had just let Charlie Mason and his gang take on the Viet Cong. Those slanty-eyes wouldn't have stood a chance.

http://www.therepublic.com/view/story/467fe1311e3344cda21ff516c0b719ea/US--Serial-Killer-Texas/

Now to my mind the man in the above article is just a four star general that missed his calling. Such a waste all around.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 30, 2012 3:01:34 AM

I can't take it.

You want to give people with antisocial personality disorder weapons and combat training, access to devastating weapons, then try to make them obey rules that are ten times more strict and demanding than the rules they could not obey in civilian life? You are expecting a highly selfish person devoid of any empathy, to stand his ground and to support his fellow soldiers under fire? You want an impulsive, lazy, violent, dope fiend, fatherless bastard spawn of a single mother slut to work 16 hour shifts without complaint, and without shooting commanding officers?

Is there any lack of opportunity in civilian life if you choose to not disrupt ordinary schools, to get a skill in votech, and get paid $50,000 at age 19, just for showing up, and fixing things? There may be a high unemployment rate, but not in skilled professions and vocations. There is no lack of opportunity in civilian life, just a lack of tolerance for criminal conduct on the job or in school.

Putting an amoral criminal into a military unit opens a third front on the combat unit. You have the ruthless enemy that beheads children, without a word of criticism from our lawyer internal traitors. You have the traitor lawyer embedded in the unit, cancelling tactical orders and prosecuting our heroes for ordinary combat decisions. Now, the lawyer wants to add his criminal client as a burden to carry, making the entire unit have to watch its back for fear of being attacked by this imposed lawyer client.

No.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 30, 2012 8:29:16 AM

"I'll discuss other possible measures to facilitate reentry."

Do you ever plan to discuss the fact that all obstacles to re-entry are the fault of the lawyer, from idiotic registries, to unproven Draconian regulations, to 50,000 civil consequences of the tiniest criminal conviction, to employer tort liability for negligent hiring?

How about stopping the out of control lawyer profession, as a remedy?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 30, 2012 8:40:32 AM

Last time I looked, the military existed to be warriors to fight to protect the national interest. This requires an extra measure of discipline, self-sacrifice and, in battle, courage. It did not exist to serve the needs of the criminal justice system, much less the interests of lawbreakers.

By its nature, the military requires from its members more than the average willingness to abide by rules and orders, and to live a disciplined and regimented life for the sake of the greater good. By definition, convicts have less of all those things than the average.

With all respect to Professor Bibas, I don't think this dog will hunt.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 30, 2012 10:00:58 AM

i'm going to have to give SC this one. This is about the most idiotic ideal i've heard in a long time! and in an election year with the continual criminal stupidity coming from our glorious politicans! That is saying something!

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 30, 2012 10:02:21 AM

"The rigors of military service are vivid and easy to visualize: think of boot camps, with bugles at dawn, shouting drill sergeants, and strenuous calisthenics."

That visualization may be easy, but it is not correct, at least after boot camp. Military service has changed a lot over the years. The military today needs to be considerably more selective about who it takes in than it did in World War II or even in Vietnam.

Bill's right. This dog won't hunt.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Mar 30, 2012 11:58:34 AM

I am a note-taker/reader at a community college, and I have to take issue with you on advocating military service instead of other types of service. First, the military teaches people how to kill and maim on command along with blind, to put down domestic unrest (i.e.: strike-breaking scabbery), and robot-like obedience to authority. Teaching such blind obedience does not teach an inmate the give-and-take skills that he or she will need for a participatory democracy. Second, the draft registration is currently sexually discriminatory against men. Third, many of these convicts might chafe and resist being treated more lowly than enlistees and decide to mutiny. Finally, putting weapons in the hands of men and women serving time is taking a big risk in the event they become bitter to being used as drudgery and cannon fodder for the Pentagon's war agenda. How does one know that they might not decide to aim their weapons at their commanding officers instead of at the people that their commanding officer orders them to fire upon?

Posted by: william r. delzell | Mar 30, 2012 1:10:22 PM

Correct, Kent. It's been a while, but the physical requirements weren't all that bad. It was the 18 hour days of a shipboard watchstander that get to you.

Professor, I don't mean to be mean, but this post seems very ignorant. From the caricature of military life to the serving up of a completely unworkable idea (an underclass in the military), your point of view seems rather ill-informed. My guess, Professor, is that you have started to believe that your credentials mean that every bit of your product is somehow great because of those very credentials. I think that's what led you to your "flamethrower" comment a few threads back. Your implication in that post that real originalists would bar plea bargains was ill-thought out, and the defense (a combination of a rhetorical rear-guard action, a bad Constitutional cite and an attempt to cover up a weak argument with a citation to scholarly pieces). You may be smarter than I am, and you may be able to whip me in an argument, but you still have to do the work. Your post doesn't reflect work--it's just a well-written musing.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 30, 2012 1:29:40 PM

Correct, Kent. It's been a while, but the physical requirements weren't all that bad. It was the 18 hour days of a shipboard watchstander that get to you.

Professor, I don't mean to be mean, but this post seems very ignorant. From the caricature of military life to the serving up of a completely unworkable idea (an underclass in the military), your point of view seems rather ill-informed. My guess, Professor, is that you have started to believe that your credentials mean that every bit of your product is somehow great because of those very credentials. I think that's what led you to your "flamethrower" comment a few threads back. Your implication in that post that real originalists would bar plea bargains was ill-thought out, and the defense (a combination of a rhetorical rear-guard action, a bad Constitutional cite and an attempt to cover up a weak argument with a citation to scholarly pieces) was weaker. You may be smarter than I am, and you may be able to whip me in an argument, but you still have to do the work. Your post doesn't reflect work--it's just a well-written musing.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 30, 2012 1:31:09 PM

hmm let me see if i get this straight!

Bill, SC, federalist, Kent and I all AGREE.....shit we're dead! the world is ending!

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 30, 2012 5:21:07 PM

Rod: These comments are expressions of love. There is no love greater than the love great enough to correct.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 1, 2012 6:28:15 AM

i have to agree SC. It's right up there with your parent as they bring the switch back and state..."this is gonna hurt me more than you!"

sometimes it just needs to be done!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 2, 2012 12:05:34 AM

It may well be that I am just too old and out dated to see the concerns expressed in the posts here. I can recall when many young men were offered the option of enlistment or prison - usually in the Marines. However, the option was not limited to any one branch of service. Having been in prison I do know that it would be hard to find a more patriotic group of persons than the average group of convicts. I was in during the "911" event and was quite surprised to see and hear the reactions of the inmate population.
As to rehabilitation: service in the military could serve this function if - if - there were no stigma attached to the convict entering into this service nor upon their release. Just another troop. Same training and training options as any other. The relegation to a special class would destroy any benefits otherwise realizable and should, IMHO, be rejected.

Posted by: tim rudisill | Apr 2, 2012 6:56:27 AM

that is true tim. My problems about it come for the other details!

the 2nd class status and the other ways they were to be seperated.

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 2, 2012 3:04:15 PM

I know a guy whose brother was a bad apple. This was during the Vietnam war. He was arrested for his infractions and instead of going to prison, they sent him to Vietnam. This man told me that he came out much better for it, that the experience totally changed him. He did not go voluntarily into war, but I am sure that because they were in battle, he quickly started to learn about loyalty to his band of brothers. It purged the selfishness out of him. I know a guy who stole a considerable amount of money from his family and they want to press charges. This guy wants to go in the Navy. I say let him. The military will make a change on him, and prison will only incite the fear of being raped or killed. He has great potential but has gone astray. There are many men and women in prison with great potential, but no one to work with them to help them realize it. Perhaps if prisons were ran more like basic training and the military, instead of just lockup and an hour out of their cell each day, we wouldn't have so many people who re-affend. Military training would give them a sense of purpose, not a set of rules only. Prisoners deserve a chance at rehabilitation. Prisons don't rehabilitate. There is nothing in the prison environment that inspires people to want to watch someone's back. But in the military, there is. Prisoners are not beyond being inspired or wanting to change. But for most, it will take the right kind of people to help them change, and you won't find that in the prison environment.

Posted by: Jennifer | Jun 2, 2014 8:36:58 AM

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