Reports of Racial Disparities in U.S. Military Justice System

Advocacy organization calls on congress to investigate new findings that black service members are more likely to face military justice and disciplinary action than white service members.

Washington, D.C.—Protect Our Defenders (POD) has released information that finds significant racial disparity in the military justice system. The report is based on data from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests submitted last year by POD to each military service branch.

For every year reported, and across all branches, black service members were substantially more likely than white service members to face military justice or disciplinary action. The advocacy organization received responses from four of the service branches, and analyzed this previously unpublished data to assess the prevalence of racial and ethnic disparities within the military justice system.

POD also found that these racial disparities have not improved, and in some cases have gotten worse in recent years.

The data shows that overall, black service members were at least 1.29 times and as much as 2.61 times more likely than white service members to have an action taken against them in an average year. The report also found that:

  • In the Air Force, black airmen on average are 71% more likely to face court-martial or Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP) than white airmen
  • In the Marine Corps, black Marines are, on average, 32% more likely to receive a guilty finding at a court-martial or NJP proceeding than white Marines, with the size of the disparity becoming more significant the more serious the disciplinary action was
  • In the Navy, black sailors are on average 40% more likely than white sailors to be referred to special or general court-martial
  • In the Army, black soldiers are on average 61% more likely to face a special or general court-martial compared to white service members

“Protect Our Defenders’ report on racial disparity is extremely important because it reveals profound racial discrimination in the military justice system,” said Law Professor Michael Wishnie, Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School. “This report demonstrates why the military must swiftly and forcefully address unequal treatment of service members based on their race or ethnicity.

“Protect Our Defenders calls on Congress to investigate these new findings, and provide recommendations for fixing this problem that affects every branch of the Armed Forces. Military leadership has been aware of significant racial disparity in its justice process for years, and has made no apparent effort to find the cause of the disparity or remedy it,” said Col. Don Christensen (ret.), the former Chief Prosecutor of the United State Air Force and President of Protect Our Defenders.

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