Florida legislators may soon make it possible for individuals convicted of certain criminal offenses to choose military service instead of serving time in prison.
Florida Senate Bill 1356 was filed on Dec. 21 by Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson. The bill would enable eligible individuals to join the military instead of going to jail. To be eligible, a convicted criminal would have to be 25 years old or younger and have a sentence that does not exceed four years for all total charges. Also, the offender cannot and must not be charged with multiple felonies or be a violent career criminal.
The proposed bill would require that the convicted person satisfy any financial obligations that have been imposed as a result of his sentence and achieve a satisfactory score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test. If the convicted individual fails to satisfy their imposed obligations, he must appear in court for resentencing, according to the bill.
If passed and signed into law, the bill could revive the practice of judges sentencing criminals to military service that was commonplace up to the Vietnam era.
“It made a lot of good people out of people that may have gone a different path had they not had that option,” Vietnam veteran Joe West told CNS when reporters asked about his thoughts on the legislation.
West told reporters that the bill could be an avenue to solving issues with violent crime in America while instilling them with a sense of patriotism.
"I think it would help them understand our country better and I think it would give them a love of country that a lot of them these days are lacking,” West said, according to CNS.
Barney Bishop, a representative of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance, an organization focused on criminal justice reform, also expressed support for the legislation. Bishop told CNS that the idea had merit, especially for the nonviolent offenders that his organization seeks to help despite military service being a "violent profession."
However, if the bill were to become law, it would face several obstacles before it can be properly implemented as the U.S. military is not required to accept individuals with a criminal record into its ranks as the U.S. Armed Forces currently has an all-volunteer policy, Task & Purpose noted. The military has a strict policy for good moral character, which prevents individuals with a serious criminal record from enlisting unless a waiver is granted, according to Military.com. Waivers are processed individually and require that the individual receive multiple letters of recommendation from police officers, school officials, or members of a religious community that speak to the applicant's reformed behavior and eligibility for service.
West acknowledged that the military today has a much stricter policy for accepting recruits as opposed to when he served during the Vietnam era
“The military has much higher standards now for entry than we had in the late 60′s, early 70′s. I mean back then if you had a pulse you’re physically capable of being in the military," West told CNS.
An identical House Bill was introduced in September by Democratic Rep. Patricia Williams. H.B. 187 has been in Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee since October.
Both S.B. 1356 and the companion house bill would take effect on July 1 if they are signed into law. The Florida legislature will resume session on Jan. 11, 2022, according to WKMG-TV.