Military Can be Life Changing for Ex-Offenders

By Joyce Lain Kennedy, Tribune Media Services, March 25, 2007

DEAR JOYCE: At 17 I had a drug conviction but I've been clean and law abiding since then. No one will hire me seven years later. I saw on TV last week that the Army and Marine Corps will now take people with criminal records. Is that true? They get something called a “moral waiver.” How does that work? - T.R.

    Recent news stories report that the Army and Marines are coping with a shrinking pool of volunteers during wartime by enrolling many more recruits with criminal records than usual. The criminal pasts include some felony convictions, misdemeanors, and traffic and drug offenses.

The Army is reported to have granted more than double the number of waivers for felonies and misdemeanors in 2006 than it did in 2003 - from 411 to 901. More than half of the Marine recruits needed a waiver in 2006.

    HOW IT WORKS. “Moral waiver” is a dispensation given to a recruit who can't meet normal enlistment qualifications. A description of the Army waiver process appears in “Army Criminal History Waivers” on an About.com Website: usmilitary.about.com/od/armyjoin/a/criminal.htm.

The moral waiver process varies with each military service. Another About.com posting discusses “United States Navy and Marine Corps Criminal History Disqualifications” at usmilitary.about.com/od/marinejoin/l/blcriminal.htm.

This nation has a long history of the military recruiting ex-offenders, especially in times of manpower shortages. During World War II, we literally paroled ex-offenders to the military, according to a recent study on the subject; find it at palmcenter.org, click on publications, then on “Balancing Your Strengths against Your Felonies.”

    HEATED DEBATE. Although the waiver process is routine for military services, most people didn't know about it until the reports of a spike in its use. This revelation has ignited a firestorm of controversy. Some parents think it's really scary to have a kid serving in a military loaded with troubled people and ex-offenders, while Pentagon chiefs think the media is dead wrong in accusing the military of staffing up with “Ex-Cons” and are turning to the Web (newsbusters.org/node/10886) to accuse pundits of exploiting recruits' youthful brushes with the law for purposes of criticizing the military. I'm not going there.

    ENLISTMENT TIPS. The purpose of this space is to help readers with job and career issues. Ron Krannich, PhD, one of the nation's most respected career authorities, has written and published more guidance materials for ex-offenders than anyone else in the nation. Here's a summary of what Dr. Krannich advises you to do if you hope to use the military to change your life:

  1. Ask a recruiter at your favored military service if you are eligible to receive a moral waiver for your previous drug experience. Although the recruiter is step one in the process, the decision to grant or reject your waiver application will be sent up the chain of command.

  2. Expect that you'll have to pass a drug test (urine and blood).

  3. Do what you can to score high on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT), which is used to determine basic qualification for enlistment. Use Google to search for articles about the test so you'll know something about it. Ask the recruiter to recommend study guides.

  4. Read one or more of the books about the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. The ASVAB is a multiple-choice test used in enlistment. Two books are “Arco Master the ASVAB” and “Barron's How to Prepare for the ASVAB,” both of which are available through Dr. Krannich's huge online careers bookstore, impactpublications.com.
    THE NUMBERS. The prison population in this country exceeds two million inmates. In a recent year, 2003, more than 600,000 inmates - approximately the population of Washington, D.C. - were returned to civilian society. Over half of ex-offenders make a round trip back to the slammer - often because no one will hire them.

As Dr. Krannich observes, “Before circumstances change, this is a good time for ex-offenders convicted of non-violent crimes to look to the military for a job that could turn things around for them.”

Source: Tribune Media Services, Inc., 2007.