Exclusive federal jurisdiction on military installations creates a black hole for juvenile justice—federal prosecutors routinely decline to prosecute cases and local prosecutors lack legal authority to enforce states laws on federal lands. Federal prosecutors seem unwilling to appreciate the physical and emotional trauma that sexual assaults have on juvenile victims and families. At Fort Lewis, Washington, a 7-year-old boy raped by a 13-year-old male neighbor wound up sleeping in corners and hiding knives to protect himself from his attacker. The victim displayed clear signs of emotional distress related to the fact that the juvenile offender went unprosecuted. At Fort Hood, Texas, federal prosecutors urged the mother of a 10-year-old boy who suffered years of juvenile-on-juvenile sexual assault to forego pursing charges, suggesting that juvenile sexual assault crimes are not serious. The mother stated of the experience, “[t]he overall sense was: This is the way it is, just go with it and suck it up and move on.”
Congress passed legislation in 1970 permitting the relinquishment of federal jurisdiction over military installations to the surrounding states through a process known as retrocession of jurisdiction. However, it left the decision to seek retrocession to the discretion of the Secretary of Defense, who in turn delegated it to the uniformed services (Army, Navy, Air Force).
Unfortunately, the uniformed services have utilized retrocession of exclusive federal jurisdiction over juvenile crimes on military installations only a handful of times (Fort Knox in 1999, Joint Base Lewis-McChord in 2001, Fort Stewart in 2015) despite clear indicators that the non-prosecution of juvenile-on-juvenile sexual assaults is a loathsome trend across the force.
Congress must pass a law requiring the Department of Defense to seek relinquishment, or retrocession, of exclusive federal legislative jurisdiction over juvenile crimes on all military installations, thereby enabling the surrounding states to extend the reach of justice into the lives of military children sexually victimized by their juvenile peers. Congress must also ensure military parents receive warnings about exclusive jurisdiction before they decide to move their families into installation housing. Additionally, it should require annual reporting of the investigation and outcome of serious juvenile criminal cases occurring on military installations.
The Protect Our Military Children Act would include the following key provisions (click on links below):
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