A Pentagon team tasked with investigating racial disparities within the military justice system released a report Thursday calling on the Defense Department to counter issues of inequality.
An internal review team stood up in May 2022 by Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks conducted the investigation, which revealed “significant” racial disparities within the military justice and investigative systems.
“In deciding whether and how to adopt and implement the [team’s] recommendations, [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] and the services must have the courage to challenge the existing state of affairs, and the perseverance to see these actions through to completion,” investigators wrote in the report.
“Making meaningful and lasting progress in addressing racial disparities across the DoD will require new and sustained investments in training and education, additional service member protections, and scrupulous oversight,” they added.
In response to the report, Hicks sent a memo to combatant commands and defense agencies that featured 17 recommendations, including establishing legal training for service members and training leaders in talent management.
Other directives call for policies that have become the norm in civilian agencies, including a call for military police to adopt “modern” law enforcement practices like wearing body cameras and recording suspect interviews.
“These disparities are unacceptable,” Hicks wrote. “They degrade service members, directly impact recruitment and operational readiness, and undermine public trust in the military.”
The report comes on the heels of other studies that revealed racial inequality within the military justice system — and armed forces as a whole.
In 2019, the Government Accountability Office found that Black, Latino and male service members were more likely than their white or female counterparts to be subjects of investigations that go into military investigative databases. That report also found minority service members were more likely to be tried in general and special courts-martial.
While minority service members are overrepresented in the military justice system, a lack of representation persists among non-commissioned officer ranks.
According to the Pentagon’s 2021 demographics report, Black and Latino troops overrepresent among enlisted soldiers compared to rest of the country. However, among non-commissioned officers, the two groups are underrepresented compared to other demographics.
“Taking care of our military community is a top priority for the department,” Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said at a press briefing Thursday. “And we remain determined to eliminate racial disparities throughout our armed forces. [The Pentagon] will continue to work to identify the causes of any racial, ethnic or gender disparities in the military justice system.”
The Army, Navy and Air Force are all on track to miss recruiting goals by substantial margins at the end of the recruiting year in October.
Zamone “Z” Perez is a rapid response reporter and podcast producer at Defense News and Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched international ethics and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.