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Navy Corrections - A History

By CDR Carl Brobst, commander | Navy Consolidated BRIG | May 16, 2018

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. —

Over the last century, the U.S. Navy corrections system has evolved along the same lines of corrections practice and philosophy used by civilian institutions around the nation. By replacing the “Articles for the Government of the Navy (Rocks and Shoals)” with the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 1951, progressive improvements in the treatment of naval offenders resulted in the prohibition of many harsh forms of punishment that were unique to navies world-wide, such as flogging and keel-hauling. One carry-over from the past is “confinement on bread and water or diminished rations for not more than three consecutive days” for military personnel of the command in pay grades E-1 to E-3 and who are attached to or embarked in a vessel.

The Chief of Naval Personnel assumed responsibility for the Navy corrections program in March 1944. Large, centralized programs for “retraining” were the basis of the system for the next 15 years. In 1959, the Retraining Commands (Norfolk, VA; San Diego, CA; Portsmouth, NH) were disestablished. By closing the Retraining Commands, the responsibility for the Navy corrections program was transferred to local command level where it was believed programs using education, counseling and assistance in problem-solving would be effective in creating attitude changes in navy prisoners. A 200-year-old tradition ended on April 28, 1969, when the term “brig” was replaced by “correctional center” for the facilities ashore. However, this proved unpopular and the term “brig” was reinstated a decade later.

The Navy’s corrections mission is: 1.) to return as many people to honorable service as possible or, barring that, 2.) return them to civilian life as productive citizens. Along with many other changes in the military specifically and society in general, the Navy corrections program underwent numerous revisions during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. NAVCONBRIG Charleston has an additional mission, when directed by superior authority, to detain enemy combatants in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

In 1979, the Chief of Naval Operations ordered a task force to review Navy corrections. Subsequently, the adoption of recommendations by the task force re-emphasized discipline within the system and the need to operate brigs within the framework of military missions and needs. In 1981, a second task force expanded the changes to the system and placed responsibility for routine operations and inspections with the fleet and operational commanders throughout the service.

In addition to these management decisions, the study implemented mandatory motivational programming and counseling. The changes also ordered separate program tracks for those being returned to duty and for those being discharged after confinement. One of the more significant studies was completed during 1985 and was approved by Admiral James D. Watkins, Chief of Naval Operations. Performed by two nationally recognized criminal justice consulting firms, in cooperation with representatives from all major Navy commands, the Navy Discipline System Study reviewed the entire Navy disciplinary system from apprehension to release recommending a three-tier brig system. The study brought Navy corrections into the spotlight and greatly assisted in gaining the necessary support within the Navy, Department of Defense, and Congress to complete revamping of the Navy corrections system.

A renewed commitment was made to having a viable, effective restoration program as well as equipping those individuals being separated with the skills necessary to become more productive citizens. In 1985, the Corrections and Programs Division of the Bureau of Naval Personnel began implementing the program generated by the Navy Disciplinary System Study. Called the “three tier concept,” the first or lowest tier consists of 10 waterfront brigs confining prisoners with relatively short sentences or personnel awaiting trial. The second tier consists of two consolidated brigs responsible for holding prisoners awarded punitive discharges and serving medium length sentences. The third tier is the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, where prisoners serving lengthy sentences are sent. This move was part of an overall change in the way the Navy incarcerated its offenders. Previously, a brig could house prisoners with sentences ranging from a few days to several years. This system now permits prisoners to be grouped by sentence length for treatment purposes.

Today, the Commander, Navy Personnel Command, Millington, Tenn., is responsible for providing technical assistance in administering the Navy corrections program worldwide, including ships’ brigs and ashore detention and confinement facilities. This mission is accomplished by the Office of Corrections and Programs (PERS-00D) at Navy Personnel Command. The three Naval consolidated brigs are located at Joint Base Charleston -Weapons Station, Charleston, S.C.; Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.; and Naval Support Activity Northwest Annex, Chesapeake, VA. The staff of NAVCONBRIG Charleston consists of over 180 Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Army active duty military and civilian staff.