Military service in lieu of imprisonment: Voices from the inside

Travis Milburn, David C. May, Peter B. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Between 10% and 15% of all military recruits have a criminal background, and each branch of the United States military issues thousands of waivers each year to allow enlistment by applicants with a criminal history. In addition, the use of enlistment in lieu of imprisonment has been exercised in an unofficial way throughout U.S. history. We present results from a survey of approximately 1, 000 male and female inmates in a large state correctional system to gauge their willingness to serve in the military in order to avoid imprisonment. The data reveal significant race and veteran status differences in respondents' preferences for military service in lieu of prison and demonstrate that a majority of respondents would be willing to enlist in military service in lieu of imprisonment. We argue that military service should be considered as a legal policy alternative to incarceration-particularly for eligible nonviolent property and drug offenders who voluntarily agree to such a plea. Military service offers better life chances for offenders than imprisonment, and it would help reduce prison populations and costs as well as the collateral consequences of imprisonment and reentry on offenders, families, and communities. Such a policy would also provide a somewhat constant supply of new, able recruits for the military in an era of voluntary service and declining military enlistment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-176
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Political and Military Sociology
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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