I also attended the Blogger's Roundtable that Armed Liberal at Winds of Change mentioned today. These waivers are characterized this way:
The vast majority of the conduct waivers are misdemeanors and a litany of three-or-more traffic offenses. And with that, there are some felony arrests and a few felony convictions. Together they total to about a half of one percent of the intake.
In the past year, the Army increased its numbers, almost doubled them. But they are so small that it equates just for scale to fewer than one per congressional district, insofar as felons that were waivered in.
The kind of person that we're talking about is someone who doesn't appear to be morally corrupt. Rather it was perhaps a prank gone terribly wrong, a grotesque error in judgment.
But in every case, if their community has joined behind them and said, this is really a good kid, and offered their support, then the recruiter might, if we've got a strong candidate in terms of their other attributes, send it up for a waiver.
A two-star will look at it. And let me say a general officer. I'm not sure if it's always two-star. But a general officer or flag officer will look at it, look at what they read about this person, what their parents, teachers, coaches have to say, and then make a judgment.
Is there any one of us who doesn't know someone who started off on the wrong track -- or made a mistake as a young man -- and ended up better because the military gave them a few years of structure, discipline, and a chance to move into adulthood? It used to be that judges gave young men a choice between the military and jail in these circumstances.
Armed Liberal makes the point that labeling someone as a "criminal" at this age is destructive to their entire lives, whereas the military may be just what they need to begin a long and productive citizenship. One of my closest friends as a boy was in just this category. He made a bad decision, although a clever one -- he figured out a way to steal from his employer and work the paperwork to cover it so as to get free money. At the age of seventeen you are the very next thing to amoral: between hormones, young male pride, and lack of experience, you neither understand the harm you are causing nor can resist a clever scam.
They caught him, and the Marine Corps recruiter he'd been working with said: "Well, hang on. Let us have him." They produced proof that he was a Boy Scout and had risen to the rank of Life Scout; that he had been a good student; and other things. The local DA didn't press charges (a felony arrest, not a conviction, as this man says) and he went into the Marines.
A few years ago, he was Honorably Discharged after more than a decade's service. He now lives as a good husband and reliable employee to a local manufacturer, and is the father of several daughters -- he described his home to me not long ago by saying, "If it's pink, we've got it."
Prison doesn't rehabilitate. Very often, the Marine Corps does.
Read the whole transcript, though, and make up your own mind.
UPDATE: SFC B, in the comments, adds some perspective:
Since 2003 the Army (the only service which I've bothered to get the full details on, however the other services are similar) has allowed anywhere between .2% and .6% of all enlistees to enlist with a waiver for a felony conviction. Two years ago, 2006, was by far the lowest percentage of felony waivers in a long, long time. The .439% of waivers that were allowed in last year (2007) was right in line with the .4% that has been the average since 2003. Basically, the AP story casts an ominous light on the subject by pointing out that the number of felony waivers doubled from last year, but they fail to provide any context to that by 1) not mentioing how many people were enlisted last year (116,141) and 2) not mentioning that 2006 was abnormal in that only 249 felony waivers were enlisted.