February 24, 2005
FIRST-TIME NONVIOLENT OFFENDERS RECEIVING MILITARY SERVICE INSTEAD OF PRISON TIME
By: Steve DiLella, Legislative Fellow
You want to know (1) if any states allow judges to sentence first-time nonviolent offenders to military service instead of prison time and (2) the number of first-time nonviolent offenders incarcerated in the Department of Correction (DOC).
We did not find any state laws that allow judges to sentence first-time nonviolent offenders to military service instead of imprisonment. The National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Center for State Courts also did not have any information on this topic. Anecdotal information, however, suggests that during the World War II and Vietnam eras, certain judges were willing to accept enlisting in the armed forces in exchange for dropping charges in a criminal case.
Although we did not find any state that permits judges to sentence first-time nonviolent offenders to military service, certain states do allow criminal records to be sealed in response to enlistment. For example, a juvenile in New Jersey can have his criminal record sealed upon proving enlistment in the military (N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2A: 4A-62).
Connecticut is the only state we found that is considering a bill that allows judges to sentence first-time nonviolent offenders to military service (HB 5728).
The U.S. military, however, has regulations on who can enter service. Any individual convicted of a felony cannot serve in the military without filing for a special waiver (http://www.usmilitary.about.com/od/armyjoin/l/blarcriminal.htm). Certain nonviolent offenses can be classified as felonies. Examples of these crimes include identity theft, perjury, and larceny in the first, second, or third degree.
According to DOC's Research and Strategic Planning Unit, it is not possible to determine how many first-time nonviolent offenders are currently serving time in Connecticut's correctional facilities. When people enter the DOC system, they are classified as either violent or nonviolent offenders. With each successive arrest, the code is overwritten and the offender is reclassified based on the nature of each new offense. DOC does not classify people in the system based on whether they are serving time for a first or subsequent offense. The only way to get this information is to look at each individual file. DOC is in the process of providing a list of violent versus nonviolent offenders. Once we receive the DOC report, we will forward it to you.