By Jeremy Schwartz, American-Statesman Staff
Sen. John Cornyn has filed legislation that seeks to plug a jurisdictional gap on military bases that has allowed hundreds of sexual assaults committed by juveniles to go unprosecuted in recent years and decades.
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, 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 base.
“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.”
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 investigation led the Pentagon to call for an Army-wide review of policies at individual military installations and sparked a 2017 agreement between Fort Hood and federal and local prosecutors. The agreement is meant 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 living on base.
Cornyn said the agreement served as the model for 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 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 says federal authorities would pick up prosecution in those instances.
The legislation being considered in Washington, D.C., does not currently include federal funding for local prosecutions.
This article originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman.