- By Jeremy Schwartz American-Statesman Staff
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, filed legislation this week to plug a jurisdictional gap on military bases that has allowed hundreds of sexual assaults committed by juveniles to go unprosecuted.
Co-sponsored by New York Democrat Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Maine Independent Angus King, provisions of the bill have been included in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, the annual defense spending and policy bill, boosting its chances of passage.
“For too long child victims of assaults at the hands of other children on our bases have fallen through the cracks of the judicial system,” Cornyn told the Statesman in a statement. “This legislation will enable local prosecutors to now pursue these cases when their federal counterparts cannot, empowering families to get justice for their children.”
Cornyn is the second Texas lawmaker to push for a solution to the issue, which the American-Statesman revealed in a 2015 investigation.
In March, U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, who represents the Fort Hood area, introduced a bill that would order military installations around the country to enter into agreements with local prosecutors to prosecute sexual assaults committed by juveniles on post.
The Statesman investigation found that 39 juvenile sexual assault allegations at Fort Hood 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 to ensure uniform prosecutions.
The investigation led the Pentagon to call for an Armywide review of policies at individual military installations and sparked a 2017 agreement between Fort Hood and federal and local prosecutors. The agreement aims to funnel cases to county systems that are better equipped to handle juvenile crime, while federal prosecutors would take on cases that county officials decline to pick up. Military courts do not have jurisdiction over juveniles.
Cornyn said that agreement served as the model for the national legislation. “This essentially takes that pilot program and makes it part of federal law,” he said.
Earlier this year, an Associated Press investigation found at least 600 juvenile sex assault cases on military bases nationwide, many of which did not result in prosecution. In Texas, AP found 41 cases at Fort Hood since 2007 and 10 at Fort Bliss in El Paso.
The Fort Hood agreement notes that in some instances the federal criminal justice system “lacks the facilities, resources and expertise” to rehabilitate juveniles and that state authorities “may be better equipped to address juveniles’ needs.”
The Fort Hood agreement comes with a caveat that could hinder local prosecution: 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 it says federal authorities would pick up prosecution in those instances.
The legislation being considered in Washington also does not currently include federal funding for local prosecutions.