Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Some felons serve time and country
Would you give a gun to a guy who admitted to dousing another man's car with gasoline and setting it on fire? That's what the military did in the case of Army Reservist Bob Gidding.

Gidding is a convicted felon who pleaded guilty to a charge of felony arson. He was sentenced to five months in prison and three years probation. He was also barred from owning or possessing a handgun.

But the judge allowed Gidding to ship out for active duty before serving his prison sentence. He wound up serving in Iraq. The Army Reserve went along with it, even though Gidding had told his commanding officer he had been convicted of a felony after joining the reserve.

"They should have arrested him, packed his bags, and sent him back," retired General Paul Monroe told me. Instead, they shipped him out for a second tour of duty and promoted him to military police officer, a job that required him to carry a loaded rifle. And today, Gidding is still an Army Reservist waiting for his next deployment.

As we looked more deeply into this case, we discovered that the U.S. military knowingly allows people convicted of felonies and other crimes to serve. In fact, the Army says soldiers who commit a felony after they've enlisted can continue to serve if a military adjudicator lets them stay.

Pentagon consultant Eli Flyer told us that Army records show it enlisted close to 1,000 people with felony records last year alone. Flyer said the last time the Pentagon matched its personnel records with federal criminal records was 1995. Looking at those records he found that one enlistee with repeated criminal convictions was given clearance for top secret information and another was cleared to serve on a nuclear missile team. Their clearance wasn't revoked until years later.

What do you think? In a time of war when recruiting numbers are so low, should people with criminal records be allowed to serve?
Posted By Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent: 9:00 PM ET
  51 Comments
I would not want Bob Gidding beside me with my life on the line in Iraq. However, I also do not think it is right for our National Guard and Reservists fighing 2& 3 tours. We have to get the troops somewhere.
Posted By Anonymous Brian Columbus, Ohio : 10:11 PM ET
Yes, depending on the offense.
Posted By Anonymous Stan, North Carolina : 10:20 PM ET
NOW WAY! I do not think that a person can change from gay to straight or the other way around. You are how you are and you can't change that...
GOD BLESS~ JOANNA
Posted By Anonymous Joanna Parker, Millsboro: DE : 10:33 PM ET
Heck no!! The Army is essentially giving special training to convicted felons to possibly commit even more crimes?!
Posted By Anonymous Missy, Los Angeles, CA : 10:41 PM ET
people are people, respect them who they,not what they are there are good and bad in all of us in general I have friends who gay they don't pressure or preach to me. I respect them indiviually
Posted By Anonymous sandra from riverside,ca : 10:49 PM ET
sure! just keep an eye on them. i know a lot of people who've gotten out of crimes by joining the military.
Posted By Anonymous John Hopkins, Hunstville, AL : 11:03 PM ET
Randi: My first thoughts were perhaps this guy has an anger management issue and setting that man's car on fire was just a bad mistake on his part but to hear that we have actually enlisted 1,000 people with felony records is absolutely shocking to me. This really is a trust issue. We have enough on our shoulders with figuring out how to win this war, let alone potentially jeopardizing our troops by making them work with criminals. Just one more thing we now need to worry about!
Posted By Anonymous Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 11:17 PM ET
Allowing persons with felony records should be done so with great scrutiny.Evaluations to each individual case would be a must. I do believe in the rehabilitation to the young,so by closing the door to what could possibly be a rewarding career,and possible great military service is only a continuing of the sentence.
Posted By Anonymous Bobbi Murphy Florence,Al : 11:41 PM ET
This story about felons being allowed in the military made CNN look bad because you picked on a guy whose crime was jealousy. Couldn't you find a real felon and not air a cheating wife's complaints? Have you turned into military bashers?
Posted By Anonymous James Rees Hermosa Beach, CA : 11:54 PM ET
I have no trouble with the idea of convicted felons serving COMBAT military duty (as volunteers or recruits)on condition that their tour of duty be appraised and evaluated at par with their sentence.
Posted By Anonymous Chito Ponce-Enrile, Manila Philippines : 11:58 PM ET
of course. this country was founded by great men who took great measures. and any great man had to have some great mistake they made, giving them the drive to be great or greater. so why not give a person another chance? depending how severe the crime maybe(murder), i would rather let a person with guarded determination to protect me then just a person with determination to protect. in other words, one person who has made a mistake will and can do something more to let the same mistake happen again.
Posted By Anonymous dong-in kim, mount holly, nc : 12:10 AM ET
How interesting that a soldier or sailor can be dishonorably discharged simply for admitting to being gay. Yet, someone with violent felony convictions is allowed to continue to serve.
Posted By Anonymous Kay Vernon, Stony Brook, NY : 12:12 AM ET
Hi Randi,
I don't think the military should lower any standard. Whether it's a draft or voluntary service, standards should be in place that are written in granite and adhered to. I'm all for giving people second chances, but the safety of the troops who aren't criminal minded is what matters most. I'd love to have heard what some of the other soldiers who served with any of these felons thought. Perhaps they'd have a different view, but I'd like to have heard their input. Take Care
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 12:31 AM ET
This issue reasserts the long-standing argument of whether or not convicted felons should be given access to employment or in this case--military service. The investigative reporting that found soldiers who were convicted of felonies after their date of enlistment continuing to serve in the Army is very troubling. The Army, as a general policy, should not give legal asylum to soldiers who have broken the law. As for soldiers who have a past record of conviction(s), I think that should be taken up on a case-by-case basis between civilian and military authorities. Just because someone broke the law doesn't mean they cannot serve the country honorably. On the flpside, we don't want a bunch of degenerate felons running around with weapons either.
Posted By Anonymous Matt, Waldwick, NJ : 12:37 AM ET
Why should I not be able to serve my country if I have a felony? Sure while I will aggree that certain felonies should bar people from serving, say murder, rape, arson. Not all felony convictions are as serious as others. I have 2 theft by recieving stolen property and 1 purjury. The stolen property? Why 7 pairs of oakly sunglasses I purchased while in high school. Is that as bad as misdemenor of say exposing your self to a little child>?

I'm just syaing that if its been a certain ammount of time ( 12 years for me ) why should I for ever live with something like that? Again, sex crimes, murder, violent crimes YES bar them.

It should be taken on a case by case basis, I think you were not fair because you did not show a sucessfull ex felon who made a future for him self in the army. MUCH like I am doing. I was told that since my felonies were not drug, violence or sex related I am able to enlist. I've racked up 15 thousand in college loans, never used drugs and want to make a future for my self.
Posted By Anonymous Shively Beaverton Oregon : 1:46 AM ET
I think that we should give prisoners a choice to serve time in prison or be in a special platoon in the Army fighting this Iraq war. They could do the extremely dangerous missions.
Posted By Anonymous S. Kulow Ramstein AB GE : 1:56 AM ET
I think first-offenders should be able to serve, absolutely. As long as the crime wasn't along the lines of treason...then you'd be looking at potential friendly-fire.
Posted By Anonymous Jason Bradshaw, Tallahassee, Florida : 2:46 AM ET
Let em fight - cause I ain't fightin!
Posted By Anonymous Jack, Los Angeles, CA : 3:12 AM ET
Sometimes people deserve a second chance. Discretion should be exercised, and decisions made on a case by case basis.
Posted By Anonymous Kevin Halverson, Seattle, Washington : 3:36 AM ET
Hey Randi,

If recruiting numbers are low, then I think that the recruiting requirements for those that are known to be felons should be higher. I have no qualms about a person who desires to enter the military to better themselves if they honestly have changed. The military provides an outlet for individuals seeking a second chance. What better way to do that than to enter into the greatest, and in some regards, most respected profession there is? This is not to say that I believe that every felon that walks into a recruiting office should be allowed in (and they certainly should NOT be given a TS security clearance - that's where I draw the line). But I do believe that a psychological evaluation should be conducted at MEPS to verify that the individuals in question really are wanting to turn their life around in a positive way. Those that have no remorse over what they had done, or are repeat offenders that do not see anything wrong with what they have done, need to be given an Army boot right out of the door.

I can understand the Army's need for personnel - especially when considering this troop surge and the fact that we are tapping into the reserve units more and more - even to the point of activating inactive reservists that are still within their Inactive Ready Reserve status. But there are decent people out there that would be good recruits.

The old saying "don't judge a book by its cover, but by its contents" should hold true even with the military. For those that are felons, that cover can be quite deceiving. Who knows? That felony charge could have been a stupid mistake when the individual was young and didn't know any better. The point is, each case should be looked into before a decision is made to allow the person to serve their country, or if they are allowed to be taken away in handcuffs...again.
Posted By Anonymous Taylor, Loveland CO : 4:37 AM ET
I think people change and should be given the opportunity to serve are country. It would be a way for them to make ammends for mistakes. Let us serve.
Posted By Anonymous Ty Sauve, Everett, WA : 4:38 AM ET
In the case of the Iraq invasion, why not? The war itself is illegal and the U.S military is committing serious crimes in Iraq.
Posted By Anonymous Collette Selvage, New York, NY : 5:32 AM ET
Tax dollars are already paying for these people to sit in local jails and federal prisions to do nothing so why not pay for them to go and defend our country. WAKE UP CALL! It might be a good idea to make that a standard practice for convicted felons. Maybe there wouldn't be so many crimes if people knew they were going to be sent to war as the consequences of their actions.
It is a fact that people who commit crimes are usually harder and more violent and are naturally more war-ready. War could be a good place for them to release all of their hostilities and they could come home with a new appreciation for life, surroundings, laws and the rights and privileges they are afforded here in the United States.
Why not let them fight for our freedom instead of sitting in a cell somewhere playing cards, writing letters, working out, eating 3 meals a day! Prisoners should make excellent soldiers they already have practice at violence.
Posted By Anonymous Zann Martin, Tennessee : 6:52 AM ET
Soldiers are supposed to kill people. We like to imagine them being social workers, policemen and therapists, but their role, training and duty is to kill people; if they are someplace where this isn't desirable, then they should be sent home. This being said, having a few soldiers with a violent past cant be all bad.
Posted By Anonymous Joel Johnson, Summit NJ : 7:43 AM ET
That's the best idea I've ever heard! Why not have all prisoners serve in Iraq? Talk about a way to "give back." Many of them probably have experience with violence and killing, so war should be old-hat to them. Heck, with the way this oil-war is going, threatening a vacation to Iraq might ever deter crime!
Posted By Anonymous Biff, Malvern PA : 7:44 AM ET
Of course, the major problem with this question is that we are lumping all felony crimes together- evidence of a fallacious pretext and a stigma attached to the word.

Arson, gun crimes, some kinds of assault: should not be able to serve.

Other forms of assault, nonviolent crimes: should be no restriction.

Perhaps a correct decision could be made using a psychological evaluation and after examining the court files for the individual. People who have one-time issues don't need a label attached to them, nor do they need to be given a state-sanctioned civil disability.
Posted By Anonymous David Flick, Glen Ferris, WV : 8:36 AM ET
I do think that people with certain legal problems should be allowed to serve in the military. It's not as though they're on vacation while in Iraq or anywhere else civil war is occurring. Actuallly, it may not be a bad idea to recruit certain offenders to put in danger zones, rather than putting our DEDICATED moms and dads
out there.
Posted By Anonymous Rosie Collins, Pineville, KY : 8:41 AM ET
I do not believe that individuals with criminal records should be allowed to serve only because they also do not have the right/privilege to vote and as it has become abundantly clear in recent months, politics has a great deal to do with the deployment of the military starting with the Commander and Chief. We should also consider the fact that once time is successfully served for an offense that the "slate should be clean". One fundamental principle about people is that we all make mistakes, the mistake should not be the focus but the behavior following it determines what type of person you/we are dealing with.
Posted By Anonymous Arthur, Chicago Illinois : 8:49 AM ET
You don't want a convicted felon to be in congress or collect their pension that they earned while being in congress and you don't want them to fight wars for you. So will you let the ones that fight your wars collect their pension or do that lose that too?
Posted By Anonymous Em, Toronto, Ontario, Canada : 9:17 AM ET
Does no one believe in the concept of rehabilitation? If someone has a felony conviction, barring it's not murder, rape, and the like, why should they not be allowed to serve their country? How many US citizens out there right now, that have no felony convictions, will not sign the dotted line and fight for their country. There are individuals in Congress who have been charged with crimes and are still able to retain their seat. So why not let those persons who have a felony conviction, serve their county and make a better life for themselves and their family. The felonies would nedd to be scrutinized. The reason I am for allowing certain felonies to be allowed to serve is that when I was 19, about 13 years ago, I was convicted of illegal possession of a firearm. This was a felony conviction and will remain on my record for life. However, I served in the Marine Corps from 1998 until 2006. From the beginning of 2003 until roughly the end of 2005, I served at 3 American Embassies as a Marine Security Guard. I received a Top Secret security clearance and served admirably at all three posts. So yes, people can rehabilitate for the better; you just have to give them a chance.
Posted By Anonymous Damon, Jacksonville NC : 9:18 AM ET
For-crying-out-loud.....you're acting as if this is the first time that this has happened. I guess everyone has forgotten Vietnam when boy after boy that ended up in court was asked by the judge: Is it jail or is it the Military? and most chose military. And as far as the 2, 3+ deployments....how can that stop when we don't have a draft. The National Guard is all we got!
Posted By Anonymous Mary Griffin, Bethel, VT : 9:38 AM ET
Yes, people that have committed felonies should be able to enlist. Just because they have made a mistake doesn't mean that they can't change. Let's face the facts sometimes cops are jerks and people have their lives ruined because of a mistake made when they are young.
Although cases in which the person is a true criminal why not send them to Iraq? The people we are fighting over there are criminals anyway. Why not fight fire with fire? The way I see Bush is more than happy to send these guys to Iraq. He see's it as a some type of eugenics.
Posted By Anonymous Sonja, Charlotte, NC : 9:38 AM ET
We are in desperate times but I do not think we are desperate enough to take crooks into the military. If found they should be discharged immediately. Remember the safety of their fellow soldiers is important also.
Posted By Anonymous Phyllis Carpenter- Palm Beach Florida : 9:44 AM ET
Are all felons equal? Do you know how many crimes have been committed and then the person gets a plea bargain that reduses the charges? I think most of us would be very surprised. I guess what I'm saying is profiling is never good. White, Black, Hispanic, felon and so on. Each person should be judges on a person level. The more money you have to pay for a lawyer the better your chances are to get charges redused. Come on. Stop and think about it. Let's continue to send only the smartest, youngest, most educated men and women to war to be killed.
Posted By Anonymous Judi Bullhead City AZ : 9:45 AM ET
If we're going to start wars every three or four years, can we really afford to be picky about who we send to fight them?
Posted By Anonymous Anne Charlotte, NC : 9:46 AM ET
Years ago, judges had the discretion to offer a defendant the choice of joining the military or serving jail time. I know people personally, who have said the military was the best thing that ever happened to them, and that the judge handed them the opportunity to turn their lives around.

Just because certain offenses have been arbitrarily deemed "felonies", does not automatically mean the convicted person is dangerous, untrustworthy, or of no use to society. It takes less than you'd think, to become a "felon".

Once the sentence is served, there should be no further impingement of the person's "inalienable" rights. And that includes the right to vote, to hold public office, or to serve one's country. I am all for offering military service as an alternative, on a case by case basis, to weed out the sociopaths and real "bad apples" who would merely use the opportunity to further their criminal career. For that matter, convicts with a lengthy sentence ahead of them, should be given the choice to go to the front lines and redeem themselves, earning credit toward time served on a merit basis. After all, urban warfare is something many of them are familiar with anyway.

But the real test, I believe, is this:

If there was an involuntary draft, would convicted felons be automatically "exempt"?
Posted By Anonymous Robyn, Pittsville MD : 9:54 AM ET
NO they should not, they will just go to another country and do something they shouldn't and cause shame on America. There are consequences to actions, and this is one of them.
Posted By Anonymous KW Bountiful UT : 9:57 AM ET
Some of the comments here assume that every felon is violent. That is not necessarily the case. In my state, 3 DUIs constitutes a felony. That doesn't indicate this kind of felon is violent. I agree that each case should be measured by the offense and an interview with the person involved. Of course, I don't condone murderers, armed robbers, rapists, child molesters serving in our military, but someone convicted of selling marijuana or drinking and driving can certainly still protect our country. Perhaps that would be the rehab that is neede.
Posted By Anonymous Dee Graves, St. Louis, MO : 10:22 AM ET
Hi Randi
I don't see how the military can afford to be choosey at this point. These felons just might turn out to be great soldiers. Does anyone remember the war movie "The Dirty Dozen"? It may have been fiction but a great concept. I would imagine a lot of hostilities could be taken out on the battlefield against the enemy.
Posted By Anonymous Lisa Ontario Canada : 10:22 AM ET
This is a complex topic. Each case should be evaluated individually. I think sending a soldier to war who has been convicted of violent crimes against a person or personal property is a very troublesome situation. This person is already mentally unstable so how would they react in the overwhelming stress of a war zone?

It's true soldiers have a job to do and sometimes that includes killing other people, however there are actual rules and procedures to engaging in a war and putting someone of dubious stability in that situation may render more incidents like Abu Ghraib and the alleged rape and killing of a young woman and three of her family members in Mahmoudiya.

Is this the kind of military you want representing you and this country?
Posted By Anonymous Fran, Dallas, TX : 10:23 AM ET
It should depend on the offense. Remember America was founded by what England called 'criminals'.

If the crime isnt violent or repeated and enough time has passed by, why shouldnt someone who paid his debt to society be allowed to serve his/her country. To me, it shows that they are taking on more debt to serve, protect and defend.

Now if you are convicted AFTER you join the military, then that should be a show stopper.

But to those who made youthful indescressions and were not violent (including sexual assualts or domestic violence), should have their rights restored. All of America did in 1776.

Now, who among you who havent sinned, throw your stone at me.
Posted By Anonymous P. Eraser, Detroit Michigan : 10:25 AM ET
Having served 6 years active duty Army myself, I have actually encountered several whom have been convicted of crimes to include murder of which were actively serving with me. On one hand, I absolutely can see the issue with allowing a CONVICT (especially one convicted of a crime such as murder) to serve on active duty. However, with respect to other crimes, I see it as the perfect solution to CORRECTIONS. In fact, the institutions across the country today aren't correcting one single thing. These convicts are released in most cases worse off than they were when they went to jail ... only to return again.

I once reported to a Master Sgt (E-8) whom had over 20 years in service. He was from a very small town in Oregon and as a juvenile he was in front of the same country judge so often that it appeared that he was well on his way to a life of crime. From what he told me, the last time he stood before that judge, the judge ordered him to a maximum sentence for the crime he committed with the option of either serving the time or shipping out for Vietnam. So, he found himself in boot camp within days. Amazingly, it was boot camp that changes this young mans course of life. He found purpose in the US military and became a career soldier. Before, I ended my 6 year tour that Master Sgt was promoted to Command Sgt Major. This rank is the highest that one can make as an enlisted soldier and any soldier that attains such is more respected (in my opinion) than even a General.

So in my opinion, a convict CANT get a security clearance to begin with. (There is a process for anyone to get even the most limited clearance).. 20,000 more troops in Iraq -- absolutely -- Get them all from our prison systems and allow them to ONLY serve in combat zones to serve out the remainder of their sentences. I'd bet that more than 90% of those convicts will go on to become productive citizens. (If they aren't KIA)
Posted By Anonymous Christopher, Philadelphia, PA : 10:28 AM ET
How can this happen? I've been trying to join the Marine Corps for the past year, but they won't accept me with a GED. Oh but they'll take a criminal. Thats B.S. what I gotta commit a felony to service my country now. I want an explaination!!
Posted By Anonymous Larrell Jones Wilmington, DE : 10:34 AM ET
At least he has the courage to go ! Unlike some of you military haters.
Posted By Anonymous Rob, Ward AR : 10:36 AM ET
I wholeheartedly agree that it is okay for felons to serve in the military. I would much rather them serve in war and give their lives than my own son. In fact, take the murderers, rapists, and child molesters and put them in the outermost post and redeploy as necessary 2,3,4,5 times... Let them stay in the desert, not on our streets.
Posted By Anonymous Kristin, Tallahassee FL : 10:42 AM ET
Hello? We are a nation of felons, THE MAJORITY OF WHOM ARE NON-VIOLENT. The "drug war" made it so, folks. We have a premium on building prisons (Forbes Magazine last month voted Corrections Corporation of America a stock to watch). We condemn China for prison labor, yet we have more citizens incarcerated. And with the UNICOR program, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has "prison industries" (ie labor) at 25 cents an hour.
Posted By Anonymous Jim Ryan - Copper Mtn. Colorado : 10:44 AM ET
Hi Randi, IMO, it could be a good idea for felons to channel their anger and agression to the enemy in combat. With proper training within a special unit, their new found purpose could raise their self-esteem and transform them into a productive human being.
Posted By Anonymous Judy Stage Brooklyn Michigan : 11:00 AM ET
The military wouldn't have to enlist ex-felons if Rumsfeld and Bush had their heads screwed on right.
They have so overtaxed the military that it will take 50 years to recover.
Posted By Anonymous jim denver, co. : 11:03 AM ET
At some time there needs to be a point of forgiveness for low-level non-violaent felonies. For someone convicted of such crimes as these there should be some form of automatic forgiveness if after say five years there are no further criminal problems. I have a friend who has a short series of convictions for passing bad checks, all together under $1000, twenty years ago. Since that time he has earned a B.S. degree, an M.S. degree and a doctorate. Yet he cannot find gainful employment because of the felony conviction 20+ years ago. Myself and others are trying to hlep him. The question si once a person has served all the time ordered as "rehabilitation" what point are they forgiven. Soem can show their rehabilitation, as my friend did, others can join the military, but there needs to be a point to forgive. I do agree that some crimes such as murder, rape, and other high level felonies are a differing story, and they should be handled with a different standard. What good is so-called prison rehabilitation, is there is not forgiveness at some point?
Posted By Anonymous DM, Knoxville, TN : 12:07 PM ET
Not all felons are a menace to society, and therefore should be allowed to serve their country. However, this situation should be evaluated on a case by case basis.
Posted By Anonymous Jason- Arlington VA : 12:46 PM ET
The armed forces (particularly the Army and Marines) have ALWAYS been a haven of sorts for some of our society's riff-raff. Lacking other opportunities to escape poverty, crime, and the ghettos/barrios, military service is "the only way out" for many troubled, disadvantaged young men. This is nothing new. I remember having a platoon in the U.S. Army over in West Germany in the late 70s--"post-Vietnam era"--and the morale was very low, and the military was VERY unpopular after Vietnam, and a lot of the solidiers were *pretty scary* let me tell you!! But, that did NOT keep them from being good soldiers. As other commentors wrote here, a soldier's job is really to "kill people", so why not let criminals do the dirty work for our country?!? Just keep 'em out of positions of responsibility and authority in the SUPPLY / MATERIALE UNITS!! hahaha!!
Posted By Anonymous Mark, Sacramento, CA : 1:12 PM ET
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