I'm having a bit of an issue here. There is a good bit of bad data out there and I have no idea what to make of any of it.
Unfortunatly, it looks like the only time the military releases waiver data is under a FOIA request because there is no DOD published source I can find that shows waiver data.
For example, the report from the Palm Center I mentioned last year stated that 901 felony waivers were granted by the Army in 2006. That does not jive with the report given to the House Oversight Committee where it states that there were 249 such waivers granted. It's a difference of 652 waivers. I have no idea how to account for that. The Palm Center's report doesn't break down the offenses like the one from DoD to the Oversight Committee does, so I'm curious if it's representing non serious offenses at felonies. Adding to my confusion is that, in a report published in the Baltimore Sun back in 2006 said that 630 (I just caught a typo I made in my entry on NCO Brief, I said 680, not 630) felony waivers were approved in 2005 and 408 in 2004. However the report from the Palm Center says that 571 and 360 were approved for those years.
I'd really, really like to see the raw data received from the Pentagon by the Palm Center instead of the summation they included in their report from last year.
Anyways... while I am loathe to use possibly bad data, I simply don't have access to any other source. So, using the data from the Palm Center for 2003-2005, and the data from the House report for 2006-2007, here is what the enlisted with a felony waiver trend looks like. You know what... just for openess' sake, I'm going to run 2006's numbers with both waiver amounts.
511 felony waivers granted
.439% of enlistees required a felony waiver
I'm going to keep looking around for anything I can find regarding earlier information and if i find it I'll update it.
I'm really curious about the discrepancy between the data from different sources. Without knowing exactly what was given to the Baltimore Sun or the Palm Center I can't even guess if it's an error in how they're reporting the data, or an error in how the data was reported. All of the services have different definitions for "felony", and there are some offenses which are considered felonies in one service, that are not a felony in another (the Army doesn't even call them felonies and instead calls them serious criminal misconduct, but that's semantics). So I'm thinking if it's a case of different analysts being inconsistent in what they're defining as a felony as time passes. Or maybe there were offenses that were considered felonies back in 2006, which are not considered felonies now, and when they crunched the numbers they used the current standard on past data?
Anyways, the bottom line seems to be that, at least since 2003, the Army has averaged .4% of its recruit pool requiring a felony waiver to enlist. 2006 is the outlier, whether it is the lowest or the highest depends on the data source you use.
*UPDATE* 20080424 0544
I was unfair to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. They had originally requested data on waivers from 2001 until now. The DoD apparently said that such numbers were not available back that far because of poor recordkeeping. That may or may not be true. I have no idea what the ARIMS requirements are for processed waivers. However, maybe someone at DoD can contact the Palm Center at UC-Berkely and ask for them to share their data from 2005 since that was where I got it for my entry last year.
2008 will be my third year of writing on this blog. This is the third time in those three years that I have written an entry about waivers, felons, and the military. It's like those swallows who go to the same monastary during their migration. Earlier this week the House Committee on Oversight and Reform released a report on the number of felony waivers granted by the Army Services. The report covered all the services, but I'm only going to write about the Army because, frankly, I'm just not in the mood to research and crunch the numbers for everyone.
Needless to say, when a report comes out saying the Army recruited felons, the wire service story is soon to follow.
Data released by a congressional committee shows that the number of soldiers admitted to the Army with felony records jumped from 249 in 2006 to 511 in 2007Anyways, in 2006 the Army approved 249 waivers for felony offenses. Because Iraq is a terrible quagmire the Army had to resort to trolling outside of jails for people to dupe into enlisting and almost doubled the number of felony recruits by approving 511 felony waivers.
One of my favorite things about people reporting statistics is selective reporting. I can't totally blame the AP for this because the House report only covered two years. However if they were to have expanded the report's period to 2005 this is what we'd find. In 2005 there were 680 people enlisted with a felony waiver in the Army. I'm trying to remember all the stories about how the Army reduced the number of felons enlisting by over 30% last year. Some Google-Fu reveals.... none. So, in the two years since the Army had its worst recruiting year in a long time, the Army has managed to increase the number of people enlisting, while reducing the number of felony waivers by 25%
Let me say this again... since 2005 the Army has INCREASED recruiting by 17%, while REDUCING the number of felony waivers by 25%. But of course I have to research this and report on it when I should be playing Everquest 2, watching the Astros, or playing with the puppy because the people who are paid to do this can't bother to ask themselves "How far back does this trend go?".
511 though is a pretty big number. It's a large battalion's worth of people. And taken out of context it's a pretty ominous thing. Imagine going up to a stranger and saying "Did you know the Army enlisted 511 felons last year? Some of them who were guilty of rape?" It's shocking really and calls into question just what sort of people are serving in the uniform. However, there were 116,141 people enlisted last year, 115,630 who did not require a felony waiver. Felons represented .4% of the entire pool of people enlisted last year. In comparison, 1% of US senators were members of the KKK. Somehow the fact that .4% of people who joined the Army required a felony waiver represents the eroding of the quality of the US Army?
Around this time of year, for the past three years, the same "The Army is lowering standards" tripe gets rolled out. Think about the progress Soldiers have made in Iraq and Afghanistan in that same time. Soldiers represent this nation abroad to the people of the most violent region on Earth, and they have done so admirably. The progress made in Iraq in the past year would simply not be possible if the perception of Soldiers that those advancing this meme was true. There are junior NCO Marines who are representing US interests to schools in Iraq. There are field grade officers who are making decisions that have strategic consquences. This is simply not possible unless the people who are joining the Army are, at worst, above average compared to the rest of the population.
I know what it takes to enlist someone with a felony conviction. It is not easy. It is a lot of work, and that person has to want to join the Army with all their heart and soul, and they must have a deep conviction that they can serve honorably. Even if they want it that badly they can, and will, be denied enlistment if anyone in the chain feels different. Even if they're approved and they enlist, it still doesn't mean they will make a good Soldier, but they'll fail of their own volition, not because of their past.