Military Justice:

DOD and the Coast Guard Need to Improve Their Capabilities to Assess Racial and Gender Disparities

GAO-19-344: Published: May 30, 2019. Publicly Released: May 30, 2019.

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Brenda S. Farrell
(202) 512-3604
farrellb@gao.gov

 

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We assessed whether there are racial or gender disparities in the military justice system.

Among other things, we found

Blacks, Hispanics, and males were more likely than Whites or females to be tried in general and special courts-martial in all military services

Race was not a statistically significant factor in the likelihood of conviction in general and special courts-martial

The services do not record information on race and ethnicity the same way, making it more difficult to identify disparities

We made 11 recommendations, including that DOD evaluate and take steps to address the causes of disparities in the military justice system.

Likelihood of Trial in General and Special Courts-Martial by Race and Gender, After Controlling for Rank and Education, Fiscal Years 2013-2017

Figure showing likelihood of trial in general and special courts-martial by race and gender

Figure showing likelihood of trial in general and special courts-martial by race and gender

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Brenda S. Farrell
(202) 512-3604
farrellb@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The military services collect gender information, but they do not collect and maintain consistent information about race and ethnicity in their investigations, military justice, and personnel databases. This limits their ability to collectively or comparatively assess these data to identify any disparities (i.e., instances in which a racial, ethnic, or gender group was overrepresented) in the military justice system within and across the services. For example, the number of potential responses for race and ethnicity across the military services' databases ranges from five to 32 options for race and two to 25 options for ethnicity, which can complicate cross-service assessments. The services also are not required to and, thus, do not report demographic information in their annual military justice reports—information that would provide greater visibility into potential disparities.

GAO's analysis of available data found that Black, Hispanic, and male servicemembers were more likely than White or female members to be the subjects of investigations recorded in databases used by the military criminal investigative organizations, and to be tried in general and special courts-martial in all of the military services when controlling for attributes such as rank and education. GAO also found that race and gender were not statistically significant factors in the likelihood of conviction in general and special courts-martial for most services, and minority servicemembers were either less likely to receive a more severe punishment than White servicemembers or there was no difference among racial groups; thus, disparities may be limited to particular stages of the process. The Department of Defense (DOD) has taken some steps to study disparities, but has not comprehensively evaluated the causes of racial or gender disparities in the military justice system. Doing so would better position DOD to identify actions to address disparities and help ensure the military justice system is fair and just.

Likelihood that Servicemembers Were Subjects of Recorded Investigations and Tried in General and Special Courts-Martial, Fiscal Years 2013-2017

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Note: These analyses, taken alone, should not be used to make conclusions about the presence or absence of unlawful discrimination. These multivariate regression analysis results estimate whether a racial or gender group is more likely or less likely to be the subject of an investigation or a trial in general or special courts-martial after controlling for race, gender, rank, and education, and in the Air Force, years of service. GAO made all racial comparisons to White servicemembers and all gender comparisons to females. GAO grouped individuals of Hispanic ethnicity together, regardless of race.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) was established to provide a statutory framework that promotes fair administration of military justice. Every active-duty servicemember is subject to the UCMJ, with more than 258,000 individuals disciplined from fiscal years 2013-2017, out of more than 2.3 million unique active-duty servicemembers. A key principle of the UCMJ is that a fair and just system of military law can foster a highly disciplined force.

House Report 115-200, accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, included a provision for GAO to assess the extent that disparities may exist in the military justice system. This report assesses the extent to which (1) the military services collect and maintain consistent race, ethnicity, and gender information for servicemembers investigated and disciplined for UCMJ violations that can be used to assess disparities, and (2) there are racial and gender disparities in the military justice system, and whether disparities have been studied by DOD. GAO analyzed data from the investigations, military justice, and personnel databases from the military services, including the Coast Guard, from fiscal years 2013-2017 and interviewed agency officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making 11 recommendations, including that the services develop the capability to present consistent race and ethnicity data, and DOD include demographic information in military justice annual reports and evaluates the causes of disparities in the military justice system. DOD and the Coast Guard generally concurred with GAO's recommendations.

For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604 or farrellb@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that the Commandant of the Coast Guard modifies the Coast Guard's military justice database so that it can query and report on gender information. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should develop the capability to present servicemembers' race and ethnicity data in its investigations and personnel databases using the same categories of race and ethnicity established in the December 2018 uniform standards for the military justice databases, either by (1) modifying the Army's investigations and personnel databases to collect and maintain the data in accordance with the uniform standards, (2) developing the capability to aggregate the data into the race and ethnicity categories included in the uniform standards, or (3) implementing another method identified by the Army. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Air Force should develop the capability to present servicemembers' race and ethnicity data in its investigations and personnel databases using the same categories of race and ethnicity established in the December 2018 uniform standards for the military justice databases, either by (1) modifying the Air Force's investigations and personnel databases to collect and maintain the data in accordance with the uniform standards, (2) developing the capability to aggregate the data into the race and ethnicity categories included in the uniform standards, or (3) implementing another method identified by the Air Force. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Navy should develop the capability to present servicemembers' race and ethnicity data in its investigations and personnel databases using the same categories of race and ethnicity established in the December 2018 uniform standards for the military justice databases, either by (1) modifying the Navy's investigations and personnel databases to collect and maintain the data in accordance with the uniform standards, (2) developing the capability to aggregate the data into the race and ethnicity categories included in the uniform standards, or (3) implementing another method identified by the Navy. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Navy

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that the Commandant of the Coast Guard develops the capability to present servicemembers' race and ethnicity data in its investigations and personnel databases using the same categories of race and ethnicity established in the December 2018 uniform standards for the military justice databases, either by (1) modifying the Coast Guard's investigations and personnel databases to collect and maintain the data in accordance with the uniform standards, (2) developing the capability to aggregate the data into the race and ethnicity categories included in the uniform standards, or (3) implementing another method identified by the Coast Guard. (Recommendation 5)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Joint Service Committee on Military Justice, in its annual review of the UCMJ, considers an amendment to the UCMJ's annual military justice reporting requirements to require the military services to include demographic information, including race, ethnicity, and gender, for all types of courts-martial. (Recommendation 6)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation, agreeing with the content, but requesting that we modify the recommendation to direct it to more appropriate entities. That change was made before the report was issued. When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense, in collaboration with the Secretaries of the military services and the Secretary of Homeland Security, should issue guidance that establishes criteria to specify when data indicating possible racial, ethnic, or gender disparities in the military justice process should be further reviewed, and that describes the steps that should be taken to conduct such a review. (Recommendation 7)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  8. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should consider the feasibility, to include the benefits and drawbacks, of collecting and maintaining complete information for all nonjudicial punishment cases in one of the Army's databases, such as information on the servicemembers' race, ethnicity, gender, offense, and punishment imposed. (Recommendation 8)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  9. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Navy should consider the feasibility, to include the benefits and drawbacks, of collecting and maintaining complete information for all nonjudicial punishment cases in one of the Navy's databases, such as information on the servicemembers' race, ethnicity, gender, offense, and punishment imposed. (Recommendation 9)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Navy

  10. Status: Open

    Comments: DHS concurred with this recommendation. When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that the Commandant of the Coast Guard considers the feasibility, to include the benefits and drawbacks, of collecting and maintaining complete information for all nonjudicial punishment cases in one of the Coast Guard's databases, such as information on the servicemembers' race, ethnicity, gender, offense, and punishment imposed. (Recommendation 10)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  11. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation, agreeing with the content, but requesting that we modify the recommendation to direct it to more appropriate entities. We made that change before the report was issued. When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense, in collaboration with the Secretaries of the military services and the Secretary of Homeland Security, should conduct an evaluation to identify the causes of any disparities in the military justice system, and take steps to address the causes of these disparities as appropriate. (Recommendation 11)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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