U.S. Rep. John Carter, the Republican from Round Rock who represents Fort Hood, has filed legislation that would order military installations around the country to enter into agreements with local prosecutors to prosecute sexual assaults committed by juveniles on base.
The bill is based on an agreement reached recently by Fort Hood officials, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Waco and juvenile prosecutors in Bell and Coryell counties to ensure that sexual assaults and other crimes committed by juveniles on Fort Hood get legal attention.
“It is unacceptable that countless juvenile sexual assault cases that are occurring on-base are falling through the cracks because federal prosecutors are ill-equipped to take action,” Carter said in a statement Monday afternoon. “This is an important first step to ensure justice, and it is imperative that it is implemented at all American military installations.”
In late 2015, an American-Statesman investigation found that 39 juvenile sexual assault allegations at the 215,000-acre Central Texas military installation between 2006 and 2012 resulted in no federal prosecutions and just a few cases sent to local county prosecutors.
The investigation further found inconsistent and haphazard prosecution of juveniles on U.S. Army posts across the country, with no centralized policy ensuring uniform prosecutions.
The problem starts with a jurisdictional black hole in which there is no clear authority for prosecuting juvenile crime on military installations. The military justice system — a separate legal construct that governs active-duty soldiers on military installations like Fort Hood — cannot prosecute civilians, a job left to federal prosecutors. But the federal system is ill-equipped and sometimes little disposed to pick up juvenile cases.
After the report, local lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Carter, called for action and Fort Hood officials began a series of meetings with the U.S. attorney’s office in Waco and prosecutors in surrounding Bell and Coryell counties to create a system to fix the situation.
Earlier this month, the Associated Press published an investigation that confirmed sexual assaults by juveniles were going unprosecuted throughout the military.
The agreement reached by Fort Hood and local prosecutors does leave one potential problem however: Local governments won’t receive any additional funding from Fort Hood or the federal government. The agreement acknowledges the lack of funding might prevent counties from taking all cases referred to them and says federal authorities would pick up prosecution in those instances.
A spokeswoman for Carter said the congressman is still exploring funding options, “but wanted to get a standard operating procedure in place first.”
“As a retired judge, I oversaw hundreds of juvenile justice cases, and I know that sexual offenders are often repeat offenders,” Carter said. “For that reason alone, it is imperative to quickly address juvenile sexual assault cases to prevent adult sexual criminals and more victims. It’s painfully obvious that the current system isn’t working, and something has to be done nationwide to ensure young victims receive justice, and young offenders receive appropriate sentencing before it’s too late.”