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New legislation would allow military service in lieu of prison time

Published: Dec. 27, 2021 at 6:25 PM CST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - State lawmakers are looking for creative alternatives to prison time for certain first-time low-level offenders.

One bill filed for the 2021 legislative session would provide the option of serving in the military instead of behind bars, but even if passed, the idea is likely to run into obstacles.

A first-time offender, 25 or younger, who is facing convictions carrying up to four years in prison would have the option of serving in the military in lieu of prison time under the legislation.

Vietnam veteran Joe West told us back during the war, military service instead of jail was a fairly common option for judges to provide.

“And they were not any different than my other brothers,” West said.

He said in his experience, those who took military service were better off than those who didn’t.

“It made a lot of good people out of people that may have gone a different path had they not had that option,” West said.

Barney Bishop with the Florida Smart Justice Alliance told us he believes the idea has merit, especially for non-violent offenders.

“Even though it is a violent profession because we’re trying to help nonviolent offenders have another alternative,” Bishop said.

The legislation would still require those who opt for military service to pay back any fines or fees tied to their sentence within the first term of their enlistment.

But even if the legislation passes the option might not work in practice.

That’s because most branches of the military now explicitly prohibit service as an alternative to criminal conviction.

“The military has much higher standards now for entry than we had in the late 60′s, early 70′s. I mean back then if you had a pulse you’re physically capable of being in the military,” West said.

But supporters of the military option said congress would have more authority to make the idea a reality.

West said he thinks it would be in the best interest of the country.

“I think it would help them understand our country better and I think it would give them a love of country that a lot of them these days are lacking,” West said.

The bill has been filed in both the Florida House and Senate. Lawmakers begin their annual session on January 11th.