Still Fewer “Criminals” in the Army Than in Your Neighborhood Bar

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For years now, the Army has been stretching to keep its numbers up by compromising everything from enlistment standards to the quality of new recruits to the character of recruiters themselves. As Peter points out below, today’s New York Times now warns us about the rash of waivers being given to incoming soldiers. Salon posted this snarky response under the headline “Need more recruits for Iraq? Take more criminals”:

The good news: As the Times explains, “soldiers with criminal histories made up only” — only! — “11.7 percent of the Army recruits in 2006.”

There are 52 million individuals in the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System criminal history database; that’s about 17% of Americans who’ve been in trouble for some crime at some point in their lives. So the percentage of recruits with criminal histories, less than 12%, is lower than that of the general population with criminal histories.

Moreover, people with criminal records don’t equal lifetime criminals; working at a bank two years ago doesn’t make you a teller any more than having sold pot in college makes you a dealer. It’s not enough that ex-cons face employment discrimination and legal restrictions on where they can live in some states. The public is, evidently, so opposed to letting them establish legitimate lives that we don’t even want them doing it in a war zone six thousand miles away.

—Nicole McClelland

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