On June 16, 2020, Brenda Farrell, Director, Defense Capabilities and Management, testified to the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel. Her testimony appears prompted, in part, by the recent high-profile killings of unarmed black Americans and resulting nationwide protests. Ms. Farrell's testimony was a follow-up to a 2019 GAO report that had found racial disparities in the military justice system.
Ms. Farrell testified that the military services still do not collect, maintain, or report consistent information about race and ethnicity, limiting the ability to identify racial disparities within military justice, despite GAO’s recommendations in its 2019 report. The data deficiencies appear caused by inconsistent classification issues. So, like the UCMJ, there needs to be a uniform adaptation of standards across the services for data collection and reporting. Troubling, though, unlike the other services, the Coast Guard failed to collect any information about race and gender in its military justice database.
Despite the issues in data collection, there is sufficient evidence military justice has disparities in investigations, disciplinary actions, and punishments, to the disadvantage of racial minorities. Other research supports this GAO finding. Ms. Farrell’s testimony also highlighted DOD’s failure to study the causes of racial inequality in military justice, despite the 2019 GAO report’s recommendation. For more nuance to the report’s findings and recommendations, please check it out. But the report is another reminder that the military services are subject to similar biases and prejudices as U.S. society as a whole. And like U.S. society, racial disparities in administering justice continue year-after-year, as policy makers fail to adopt the recommendations of those studying the problem.