Addressing racial disparities in the military justice system

Addressing racial disparities in the military justice system
© Greg Nash

Racial disparities in the military justice system have been a problem for far too long. We know it, and we are going to work hard to fix it.

Earlier this year, I had a number of discussions with members of Congress and key stakeholders about reforms to our military justice system. We also have heard from service members about painful experiences that are unacceptable in the military or any justice system. 

Most recently, a 2019 report by the Government Accountability Office highlighted that members of color were more likely to be tried in a court martial proceeding, but going back decades studies have highlighted this problem.  

ADVERTISEMENT

The men and women who risk their lives in defense of the United States deserve better, and we are committed to change. Leveraging evidence-based best practices, we will drive meaningful and lasting progress. And while driving change across one of the world’s largest enterprises is never easy, this challenge demands we do so quickly and methodically.

A plethora of studies have identified the problem, and we believe we can build on these to target meaningful solutions. We have directed the rapid collection of the data required to conduct a root-cause analysis of racial disparities in military justice. Working closely with the secretaries of the Military Departments, we expect to have that data ready for analysis by the end of this month. 

As we generate interim findings, we won’t wait to take action. A dedicated team of experts will conduct an internal analysis by the end of 2021. For each area identified, the team will work with the services to develop targeted corrective action plans for specific issues. The internal working group will provide actionable recommendations to the department’s senior-most leadership — both civilian and uniformed — ensuring the people most impacted have a voice in this initiative, not only now but in the future.  

To hold ourselves accountable, and consistent with congressional intent, we have also launched an independent assessment of the root causes of racial disparities in the military justice system. As that assessment completes in mid-2022, we will ensure the findings and any recommendations are incorporated into our action plans

We are committed to identifying solutions fitted to this problem with detailed attention and careful implementation. That will require commitment and action from all leaders in the department and at all levels. But it is way past time. Rapid action now will help us achieve sustained progress in the years to come. Our people deserve nothing less. 

Dr. Kathleen H. Hicks is deputy secretary of Defense. She previously served as principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy during the Obama administration and was senior vice president and director of the international security program as the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Follow her on Twitter: @DepSecDef