Are Prisoners Drafted For War?

During most blog posts here on Prison Insight, I talk a lot about the things that prison inmates are not allowed to do. I also discuss the rights inmates lose when they are incarcerated as well as when they are released back into society as felons.

Today, I am going to talk about something else that inmates can’t do when they are behind bars, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing – getting drafted into the military. In the United States, healthy men age 18 or over are supposed to register for conscription. 

Currently, women are not required to do so, but a federal judge recently ruled that the law requiring men – but not women – to register for the draft is unconstitutional. That case is still making its way through the courts.

What about adult prison inmates? Do the same rules apply? This leads us to today’s blog post: are prisoners drafted for war?

In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:

  • Prison inmates in the United States are not drafted for war
  • Felons can enlist in the military with a waiver
  • Some inmates are trained as firefighters on the West Coast

Prison inmates in the United States are not drafted for war 

For numerous security reasons, prison inmates in the United States are not drafted for war. Even during World War II – when more men were drafted into the military more than any other time the country’s history – inmates still remained incarcerated. 

However, many inmates still contributed to the war effort. So many begged to go to war instead of remaining locked up that according to the World War 2.0 Blog, some facilities started military training units.

For example, at the Ohio State Penitentiary, prisoners sent notes and pleadings to Warden Frank D. Henderson, asking to be given the chance to join the army upon release. This led to the organization of a training unit, in which 60 convicts drilled for two hours a day. 

“The 60 men were handpicked from a group of 332 ex-service men. Some were weeded out based on the severity of their crimes. They would have to be let out on parole to serve, but all were eligible for early parole, making it more likely that they would be released while the war was still being fought.”

The 13-week training course did not include the use of actual weapons. The goal was to train 500 inmates who would ultimately earn a place in the military. Aside from training, inmates also bought war bonds and stamps to aid the military effort; approximately $11,000 worth of war bonds and $3,000 worth of stamps had been purchased at the time the source article was printed in 1942. 

In Oklahoma, many inmates serving life sentences appealed to President Roosevelt during WW2 for the opportunity to perform suicide missions. 

“That’s a job which would just suit us,” said a man who spoke for the inmates at the time. Some of them were former members of the armed forces who had been dishonorably discharged. The letter to President Roosevelt stated that these men would rather die for their country than in a prison: 

“Please help these men to redeem themselves in their own eyes, as well as in the eyes of the world,” said the spokesman.

Many prison production facilities were also transformed into war laboratories, where inmates trained for manufacturing jobs and developed trade skills required to produce war materials.

Felons can enlist in the military with a waiver

Once an inmate completes his or her sentence, they can enlist in the military. However, there are restrictions based on the crime committed. Once an inmate is released, they can meet with a recruiter to enlist, but they will ask about criminal history.

It is important to tell the truth because the military will still run a background check, no matter what the recruiter is told. A waiver may be granted for crimes such as:

  • Minor non-traffic related charges
  • Civil offenses
  • Certain misdemeanors
  • A mix of misdemeanor charges and minor offenses
  • One serious misconduct charge, depending on its severity – or a felony

When making their decision about the waiver, they will consider how many offenses the felon has committed. Some offenses show poor moral character. To be honest, if someone commits a certain type of crime, the military is not going to trust that person to make life and death decisions or put someone else’s life and safety into their hands.

The decision for a waiver is also influenced by the person’s conduct while incarcerated. 

Some inmates are trained as firefighters on the West Coast

Even though this doesn’t touch on the topic of the military draft, I did want to mention that some inmates in prisons on the west coast are trained for a very dangerous job. In California, some male inmates work in conservation camps that are specifically used for firefighter training. The inmates are then deployed to fight fires when needed. 

Unfortunately, those inmates are only paid $1 an hour for their services when fighting a fire. Their daily per diem rate for being in the program is approximately $3. Until September 2020, those inmates were not allowed to work as firefighters after their release from prison. A law was recently passed that changed this ridiculous inmate barrier for entry into the workplace.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes, lets prisoners who served in a state firefighting camp or on a county fire hand crew apply to the court to erase their convictions so they can qualify as EMTs, Politico reported.

“The Golden State has long relied on inmates to fight fires and approximately 3,100 inmates helped keep flames at bay last year.”

The bill excludes those convicted of certain crimes, including murder, kidnapping, rape, arson or any felony punishable by death or life imprisonment.

Do you think inmates should be drafted?  Why or why not?  Let us know in the comments below.


Patriotism Behind Bars: US Prisons Aid the War Effort

Do Felons Get Drafted?

California Clears Path for Inmate Firefighters to Become Regulars After Release

California Clears Way for Inmate Firefighters to Enter Profession Upon Release

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