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My father served in the Army during the Korean War and told me that many of the soldiers he served alongside with were in the Army as an alternative to prison. Several Vietnam-era vets have told me they've served with military members who were told by a judge, "Join the Military, or go to jail."

Can courts still do that? Can a criminal court judge sentence a person to military service as an alternative to jail. Can a prosecutor mandate that someone join the military as an alternative to criminal prosecution?
July 8, 2009 at 9:48 am
(1) Rich Zore says:

No, Judges used to offer military service to young men who were in trouble with the law as an alternative to jail time. The idea was that the military needed men and the men need the discipline of the military. I don’t think this is the case that much now as the education requirements of the military are up to the point where they turn people away.

July 9, 2009 at 12:12 pm
(2) chris says:

Yes they can still do that. Judges can offer an alternative to prison with a service of five years in their choice of branch in the military. I serve with many Marines in the Marine Corps that are serving rather than going to prison.

July 9, 2009 at 5:19 pm
(3) Kevin says:

I was a go to war or go to jail kid in 1994. I was going to serve 45 days in jail or two years probation. When I told the judge I was already signed up to serve he had the DA call my recruiter and dismissed all charges against me so I could make my basic training date, and I never looked back. 15 years later I am still in and the Army changed my life for the better.

July 10, 2009 at 10:19 am
(4) The Sarge says:

Good story, Kevin. In my 21 years service, I have had the honor and privilege of knowing, and serving with, a number of fine NCOs who, themselves, were of the “go to war or go to jail” origin. You, brother, are one of the fortunates who realized, early on, the merits and value of military discipline. Good luck in your career; always, both in uniform and after you retire, remember the reasons behind that which enabled you to “see the light”. Godspeed, Kevin.


July 10, 2009 at 1:10 pm
(5) Xavier Buaillon France says:

Well, I don ot know about USA but if you are interrested to know, in France we have the “Legion Etrangere” (Foreign Legion) which do not asks about the past of recruits. Many (not all) were criminals in their respective countries and the Legion has the power to give them a new name and a new nationality, geting a fresh new passport and keep their new identity when they finish their time (5 years duty). They cannot keep contact with their relatives, they are like reborns. Many of them decide to overstay as the Legion becomes a family to them, it offers to the courageous men a second chance in life by serving the French Foreign Legion and France’s foreign military policy. Many missions are secret and the training is quite hard (Djibouti in Africa, Guyanna in South America). The training is very selective and only the most motivated ones are able to stay. Hope this information will help someone ready for change.

July 11, 2009 at 8:10 pm
(6) The Sarge says:

Merci non, mon ami. Viva l’armi Americain!

Le Sarge

September 9, 2009 at 3:02 am
(7) shortywolf says:

The courts no longer impose the “go to jail or join the service” In fact, most branches if not all, I cant speak for all, have a policy that disqualifies someone who have been released from a court proceding on the condition they join the service.

March 16, 2010 at 8:35 am
(8) john says:

im doing my senior project on this because i truely belive that this should be an option i got into some trouble with a dui and its really messing with me wanting to finish with the marines. when they told me ill have to do jail time i wish this option would have been avalible for me.

December 20, 2011 at 4:46 pm
(9) Petty Officer Sue says:

I was a “Join the military or go to jail” kid. They got me with three joints, crime of the century in 1970. The Navy did me a world of good – the discipline I learned has served me in good stead lo these many years.

April 15, 2013 at 7:00 pm
(10) Mary Benton says:

It wasn’t just men who were told by judges to join the military or go to jail. In 1976 I was in boot camp with several women who were there for the exact same reason. They had boyfriends in prison and I used to take nude photos of them to send to their boyfriends.

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