The U.S. Defense Department and military services have made progress in tracking demographic data regarding military justice cases, but some work remains to be done, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office update issued late last month.

The watchdog released a report in May 2019 looking at racial, gender and ethnic disparities in the military justice system.

That report found that the services were not consistently collecting information along those demographic lines, which limited their ability to identify any disparities.

The 2019 analysis also found that Black, Hispanic and male servicemembers were more likely than white or female service members to be investigated for crimes and were also more likely to be tried in general and special courts-martial when controlling for rank and education.

But that analysis also found that race and gender were not “statistically significant factors” when it came to convictions, and that minority servicemembers were as or less likely to receive a more severe punishment than their white counterparts.

Last month’s GAO update noted that the Pentagon “had taken some steps to study disparities but had not comprehensively evaluated the causes of racial or gender disparities in the military justice system.”

Still, GAO found that progress has been made, and that the services have implemented eight of the GAO’s 11 recommendations for better reporting and collection of demographic data.

Among progress made, the Army, Navy and Coast Guard have started to collect such information when it comes to administrative discipline and all three services have “taken key steps to collect and maintain consistent data for race and ethnicity,” according to the GAO.

The services have, in general, begun reporting demographic data in annual reports, which could lead to greater visibility for any disparities, and the Coast Guard now reports gender information into its military justice database,

Among GAO recommendations that have not been implemented, the Defense Department has not identified when demographic disparities in the military justice system warrant further investigation, and the Air Force’s investigations database is not yet able to consistently report demographic data.

While the department and services have completed or are working on military justice system disparity assessments, they have not yet identified causes of these disparities or taken steps to address such disparities, according to the GAO.

“Conducting comprehensives analyses into the causes of disparities in the military justice system would better position DOD and the military services to identify actions to address disparities and thus help ensure that the military justice system is fair and just,” the GAO report states.

Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at geoffz@militarytimes.com.

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