With all the concerns in Washington these days about misconduct in the ranks, one might think the military justice system is swamped with unruly troops and commanders looking to crack down on them.
In fact, it’s just the opposite.
Across the force, the military is meting out far less punishment today than just a few years ago. It’s a hard-to-explain trend that has many military justice experts wondering whether commanders have lowered expectations for keeping troops in line — or simply gone soft on some forms of misconduct.
Over the 10 years from 2004 to 2013, data from the service judge advocates show:
■ Courts-martial have dropped about 50 percent.
■ Nonjudicial punishments are down about 25 percent.
■ Bad-conduct discharges have fallen by more than 60 percent.
And according to the Justice Department, the number of troops convicted of crimes and incarcerated in military prisons has shrunk by 35 percent.
Many legal experts say the across-the-board drop in punishments coming at the tail end of two long wars reflects a philosophical change in the way the military handles misconduct in the ranks, especially low-level misconduct. As commanders have grown frustrated with the time and resources required to press a full-blown court-martial, they are now more likely to simply kick troops out of the service quickly and efficiently through administrative channels.
Here’s some food for thought. I’d love to hear from the active duty types what their thoughts are.
Back in my day, court martial was pretty dang rare, and only for egregious offenses. We had a soldier in my company tried at General Court Martial for negligent discharge of a weapon, because it lead to two very serious injuries. As I recall, he received an 18 month sentence. We had another that was sent to GCM for a DUI resulting in a fatality, and if memory serves, he made a plea deal that resulted in something like a 2 year sentence.
Troops that came up positive for marijuana when I was on my first enlistment would invariably receive non-judicial punishment (from the Brigade Commander, who withheld NJP authority for that from his subordinates) and sent to 30 days at the on-post correctional facility for “corrective training” plus loss of a stripe and loss of pay. But they weren’t automatically tagged for admin separation. A few years later, generally the punishment was 45 days restriction, 45 days extra duty, loss of a stripe, and loss of two months pay, and a virtual certainty of an admin separation.
In spite of what you might have been conditioned to think in movies and TV, I never saw anyone receive NJP or courtmartial for insubordination. That was usually a matter for “kinetic counseling.”