The military is not an option for sex offenders. Go to jail | Opinion

·7 min read

Editor's note: This column talks about sexual trauma that some readers may find upsetting. If you are a victim of sexual trauma and need help, please visit the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs website at or call (800) 656-HOPE (4673). You can also contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888.

On January 7th, The State Journal published an article regarding the criminal sentencing of Mr. Brandon Scott Price. Price was "charged with third-degree sodomy, a Class D Felony, but the charge was reduced to second-degree sexual abuse, a Class A misdemeanor.” This conviction stems from a 2019 arrest while Price was working as a guard at the Franklin County Regional Jail, where he sexually assaulted a female inmate. His sentence was 12 months incarceration, probated for two years.

At his hearing, Price and his defense attorney, Ms. Whitney True Lawson, requested a suspension of the 12-month incarceration if Price rejoined the U.S. Army, where he previously served as an enlisted Infantryman. Judge Wingate agreed to the request. Wingate placed a 30-day clock on enlistment, warning Price that he was “under the gun.”

“Join the military or go to jail” was an oft-used clarion call in America of the mid-1980’s and earlier. It was a time when the military was interested in increasing its numbers without regard for the character of its service members. Judges often issued this ultimatum to men convicted of minor or moderately severe offenses. I imagine that the reasoning behind this edict was a twofold benefit: the hope that the military would “straighten out” the offender, and the convenience of clearing the court’s docket more quickly.

The time of “join the military or go to jail” is long behind us, and it should not return anytime soon.

More: Fischer leaves door open for further investigations after fifth death at jail in six weeks

The U.S. military of today places a premium on the intelligence, capability and integrity of the men and women who volunteer to serve. Rigorous background checks are conducted on every prospective Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine and Guardian before they are permitted to enlist. It is true that each branch has different standards regarding the caliber of individuals who passes these screenings, and it is also true that waivers are common for prospective enlistees with minor offenses on their past records. However, no branch of our armed forces has available space for sex offenders.

The Department of Defense is committed to a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault and sexual harassment. During the 2020 fiscal year, the military received and processed 7,816 restricted and unrestricted reports of sexual assault. Out of that number, 3,358 reports were referred to military justice, which resulted in courts-martial, nonjudicial punishment, administrative separation from the service, or other adverse action against those convicted. The military and National Guard Bureau also investigated 984 formal complaints of sexual harassment and 765 informal complaints of sexual harassment, administering 720 corrective actions of various types for convicted offenders.

Sadly, despite its continued efforts, the military has had a long and troubled history with sex crimes in its ranks. Infamous incidents in recent decades include the Tailhook scandal of 1991, the Aberdeen scandal of 1996, the controversial death of Private First Class Lavena Johnson in 2005, the Armed Forces Nude Photo scandal of 2017, and the murder of Specialist Vanessa Guillén in 2020 following repeated instances of sexual harassment by a military coworker. The conclusion that we must draw is that while the military may be putting effort into the task of reducing and eliminating sexual assault and sexual harassment among its ranks, this is a fight that will probably continue for a very long time.

I am privileged to be part of that fight. Five out of my 13-and-counting years of Army and Army Reserve service were spent in the collateral-duty appointments of unit Victim Advocate and company-level program manager for the Army Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Prevention (SHARP) Program. I have provided training to Army units, advised unit command teams on best practices and procedures to implement the SHARP Program, and supported victims of sexual assault and harassment through the trauma and recovery of their experiences. I have helped teach the slogan “Not in my Army” to new enlistees so that they will carry the message forward that sex offenses are not tolerated at any level of military service.

From this experience, I know that individuals such as Price have absolutely no place within our ranks and that Judge Wingate made an egregious error in letting Price off the hook as long as he stopped by the local recruiting office after leaving the courtroom. As both a former corrections officer and a former soldier, Price swore not one, but two separate oaths to uphold principles that we view as sacred. With his criminal act against a shackled inmate, he broke them both.

Unfortunately for Mr. Price and Ms. Lawson, the DoD has learned from its past. DoD Instruction 1304.26 prohibits the enlistment of individuals who have “a significant criminal record,” or any state or federal conviction of a sex offense. “The Military Services are responsible for the defense of the Nation and should not be viewed as a source of rehabilitation for those who have not subscribed to the legal and moral standards of society-at-large.”

Army Regulation 601-210 governs the enlistment program of the US Army and Army Reserve. Chapter 4 states that an “applicant who, as a condition for any civil conviction or adverse disposition or any other reason through a civil or criminal court, is subject to a court order that requires enlistment into the U.S. Armed Forces of the United States, is not eligible for enlistment…”

More: 'Crisis' at Metro Corrections? ACLU calls for action after 3 deaths within one week

Translation: If you walk into an Army recruiting office because a judge sent you there, turn around and walk back out.

The regulation goes on to state that an enlistment “waiver may not be considered for any person with a civil conviction of major misconduct for any of the conditions below,” with one of the conditions being a “person with prior service who incurs a major misconduct conviction during or after military service.”

The list of major misconduct offenses is provided in the same chapter. Two entries on that list are sexual abuse and sodomy.

Mr. Price, the military doesn’t want you.

Thankfully, Price has already been turned away from the Army Recruiting Station in Frankfort. It’s very likely that he will not find a friendly face in any military recruiting office and will end up serving his 12-month sentence. This is the punishment that Judge Wingate should have imposed to begin with. Sending criminals convicted of violent or sex-related offenses to a recruiter’s office not only threatens the reliability of the recruitment process but also puts the military’s efforts in combatting our own sex-crime-related issues at serious risk. It needs to stop.

Judge Wingate is of the opinion that Price’s sex crime was nothing more than “a terrible mistake, which… cost the county money.” Both the judge and Lawson also seem to think that the military is an acceptable place for Price to redeem himself, wipe the slate clean and once more become an upstanding citizen. The more likely outcome of his reenlistment is that he would be provided with an environment in which he could continue his predatory behavior.

Benjamin Garnett
Benjamin Garnett

For Lawson and Judge Wingate, I recommend taking the two-week Army SHARP Foundation Course to update their knowledge of the military’s modern policies on sex crimes, as well as brushing up on DoD 1304.26 and AR 601-210, Chapter 4. It’s time to discontinue practices that belong decades in the past.

To Mr. Price, I offer this simple message.

Not in my Army.

Benjamin Garnett is a U.S. Army Non-Commissioned Officer, a graduate of Franklin County High School, and a Frankfort native. He holds a Master of Arts in Communication from the University of Louisville. The opinions expressed in this article are his own and in no way represent the official views of the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense.

Interested in writing an op-ed or guest column?

More: How to submit a guest opinion column or op-ed to The Courier Journal

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: The military not an option for sex offenders | Opinion

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting