- Story Highlights
- Recruits convicted of assault, drug possession, making terrorist threats allowed in
- Rep. Henry Waxman: Defense Department has month to explain waivers
- Army granted 511 felony waivers in 2007; Marines granted 350 in 2007
- Army defended waivers, saying fewer recruits today meet their standards
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Army and Marine Corps are allowing convicted felons to serve in increasing numbers, newly released Department of Defense statistics show.
Recruits were allowed to enlist after having been convicted of crimes including assault, burglary, drug possession and making terrorist threats.
The statistics were released by Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
He has given the Pentagon a month to hand over up-to-date details on the number of waivers granted, reports on how the recruits have performed and information about how the waivers are related to meeting recruitment goals.
Pentagon statistics show the Army granted 511 felony waivers in 2007, just over twice the 249 it granted the year before. The Army aims to recruit more than 80,000 new soldiers a year.
The Marines -- which recruits fewer new service members each year than the Army -- also reported a rise in waivers for felonies, with 350 granted in 2007, compared with 208 in 2006.
"There was a rapid rise in 2007 in the number of waivers the Army and Marine Corps granted to recruits convicted of serious felonies," Waxman said in a letter Monday to David Chu, the under-secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
"I understand that there can be valid reasons for personnel waivers and recognize the importance of providing opportunities to individuals who have served their sentences and rehabilitated themselves.
"At the same time, concerns have been raised that the significant increase in the recruitment of persons with criminal records is a result of the strain put on the military by the Iraq war and may be undermining military readiness," he charged.
The Army defended its use of waivers as a response to a changing American society, arguing that only three in 10 Americans of military age "meet all our stringent medical, moral, aptitude or administrative requirements."
"Today's young men and women are more overweight, have a greater incidence of asthma, and are being charged for offenses that in earlier years wouldn't have been considered a serious offense, and might not have resulted in charges in the first place," John P. Boyce Jr. of Army Public Affairs said in a statement to CNN.
He said the Army never issues waivers for some types of offenses, including sexual violence, alcoholism and drug trafficking.
But the Pentagon statistics showed the Army allowed 106 convicted burglars to enlist in 2007, up from 36 the year before. It also granted waivers to 43 recruits convicted of aggravated assault that year, up from 33 a year before; and to 130 people convicted of possession of drugs other than marijuana, a rise from 71 in 2006.
It also allowed two people convicted of making terrorist or bomb threats to enlist in 2007, up from one the year before.
The Marines did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The Navy reported a slight decline in felony waivers, from 48 in 2006 to 42 in 2007. The Air Force said it granted no felony waivers in either year.