There are currently over 2.1 million people incarcerated in US prisons. Approximately 1/4 of that population is incarcertated for what could be considered minor drug and petty theft crimes. Such is the legacy of the "war on drugs" and controversial mandatory sentencing laws like California's "three strikes."
Prisons are overcrowded and the costs to the taxpayer of housing inmates and building additional prisons is a major strain on state and local budgets. Perhaps even more alarming is the rate of repeat offenders which suggests that the US prison system and a form of "rehabilitation" is ineffective.
Does it not make sense for the US government to revisit a policy of sentence forgiveness for active military service? Would such a program be more successful for rehabilitation of minor criminals, like those who end up getting long-term sentences in California because shop-lifting or a DUI violated the three strikes law?
Such service would be discretionary for these men and women, so no inmate would be forced to give up incarceration for military service. While from a civil rights point of view, it may not seem like much of a choice, but service in lieu of incarceration seems more fair than a 20 year sentence for smoking a joint. The military could also provide skills and discipline that many of these unfortunate individuals never had.
Such a program would also benefit the US taxpayer because it would provide provide a reallocation of expenses away from the prison system and to the military, thus having a neutral effect on government budgets. The program would also relieve stress on National Guard units serving multiple tours of duty in Iraq and reunite them with their loved ones. Politically it would be popular because it would relieve pressure for a draft. Conservative fanatics could not say they the program allows victims of "reefer madness" or cleptomania back on the streets, because these soldiers would be required to perform their service in hazardous areas. They would also be kept in the same units for a period of time and subject to special counseling and group therapy until cleared by a military psychologist for regular duty.
Such a program I will be presenting to members of government and the military for consideration. It is not in any way meant to endorse a continuing presence in Iraq or the "war on terror," which I personally consider a farce. It is meant provide policy makers with an alternative to a draft, help our soldiers who are stuck in Iraq (and their families), help people who I believe have been given cruel and unfair sentences for their crimes, and propose a wiser use of tax dollars than simply borrowing more and more to build the military ranks.
Comments both positive and negative would be appriciated. Thank you.