Drew F. Lawrence, Military.com, October 9, 2023
The Marine Corps has started to collect demographic data on victims of low-level offenses as part of ongoing changes to the military justice system the Pentagon has argued are needed to combat long-standing racial disparities.
Beginning in August, the Marine Corps began recording anonymous race, ethnic and gender data for victims of all nonjudicial punishment offenses, or NJPs, in a revised form that was announced that month. Information on the accused is collected as well, but not on the updated form, the Corps told Military.com.
Lawmakers have been pushing the military for reforms to its justice system through a series of annual defense policy bills, though much of the attention has been directed at courts-martial, where punishments are typically more dire.
However, the Pentagon found in an internal review completed in 2022 that the greatest disparities occur where there is limited oversight, like NJPs, and where decisions are made at lower levels of the chain of command.
In its fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress mandated that the secretary of each military department submit reports on racial, ethnic and gender data within the military justice system.
Units are being tasked by the services with gathering data, scrubbing it of personally identifying information, and reporting it in the aggregate up the chain until it gets back to Congress every April 30. Part of that mandate also included gathering victim demographics and NJP data.
For the Marine Corps, this comes in the form of an updated NAVMC 10132 form, or Unit Punishment Book entry, which is used to record low-level punishments.
Until August, the form did not have a section for certain demographic questions. Now, it includes a section where leaders are told to record victim information, including gender, race and ethnicity, as well as their overall status as military personnel, spouse, dependent or civilian.
The new data is meant to help more broadly reveal disparities that have already become apparent in analysis of those accused of infractions.
“There’s two sides to this,” former Maj. Daniel Walker, who served as an Air Force F-22 Raptor mission commander and is now a board member for the Black Veterans Project, or BVP, told Military.com on Friday. “There’s an offense and then there’s a victim, and to have both sets of data would be important. … I want to know who the victims are. Is there a certain race or demographic that is reporting another race or demographic more often?”
In 2021, the Pentagon reported that nearly 4% of the force is subject to nonjudicial punishment, the most common form of official penalty in the military. Citing a report from the Center for Naval Analyses, the Pentagon said that “Black enlisted personnel were more likely than white enlisted personnel to be investigated and be involved in nonjudicial punishment and courts-martial in some way,” though there’s no evidence they commit infractions at higher rates.
In the first year after the congressional requirement to collect data came into effect, each branch interpreted the law differently and the services did not capture each level of punishment or victim data the same way or, in some cases, at all. The differences, according to a Defense Department review, prevented “meaningful analysis” of the disparities, though the data that could be interpreted was called “unacceptable” by Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks.
As the military faces its worst recruiting crisis in years, the Defense Department itself has cited inequality in the justice system as a contributing factor, including in retention.