Child sex offenders largest group of inmates in military prisons – report
More than half the cases in the military justice system involve child victims of sex assault, according to an investigation by Associated Press. This has raised questions about the transparency of military courts.
With information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, AP uncovered that out of the 1,233 inmates in US military prisons, 61 percent were convicted of sex crimes. Children were the victims in more than half of those cases, making their abusers the largest group of criminals in the US military prison system. In 2015 alone, service members victimized children in 133 of 301 sex crime convictions.
The military justice system operates independently from federal and state criminal courts. The US Constitution requires openness in civilian judiciary, which is why trials and court filings are open to the public, as a way of providing accountability.
The military judiciary is much less transparent, however, and acquiring full accounting of perpetrators’ crimes and sentencing is difficult. The most that the public can generally hope to see is a brief summary of the results of the trial. Records for most federal court cases are available online via the Public Access to Court Electronic Records. To obtain records from military trials, on the other hand, a request must be made through the Freedom of Information Act, which itself includes an exemption that allows the government to withhold records in cases where disclosure could violate personal privacy.
Case information that might be relevant to the public interest includes pretrial agreements between the accused and prosecutors, which can drastically reduce sentences for criminals such as child sex offenders.
In January, a military Judge found Chief Warrant Officer Daniel E. DeSmit of the US Marine Corps guilty of several sex offenses. He had spent $36,000 producing and viewing child pornography over a period of six years.
DeSmit, 44, was sentenced to 144 years in prison, but due to an undisclosed pretrial agreement, his jail time was reduced to just 20 years. AP asked for the investigative report in DeSmit’s case, but their Freedom of Information Act request was initially rejected on privacy grounds. The report was only release after AP appealed.
While the Army, Marine Corps and Navy have recently begun including references to plea deals in trial summaries, the Air Force still does not.
In civilian courts, there are minimum sentences that are mandated by the federal government for sex crimes. This includes 15 years for child sex trafficking, or 30 years for engaging in a sex act with a child under the age of 12. Military courts do not do not impose any such mandatory minimum sentences for those crimes.
Even after serving time, service members are given a level of privacy that those convicted in civilian courts do not receive. While the Department of Justice maintains a federal registry for civilians that can be viewed by the public, and many similar systems exist on the state level, there is no equivalent database documenting the sex crimes of service members.
Exacerbating these transparency problems is the fact that child sex crimes do not receive the same amount of attention as sex crimes with adult victims, which Congress and the Department of Defense have focused on preventing and prosecuting.
Department of Defense officials, however, said that such a high proportion of military prisoners are child sex abusers because judges and juries view the crimes as particularly heinous and impose longer sentences. They also said that military prosecutors pursue cases that civil prosecutors would never take to court, and the startlingly high number of convicted pedophiles in the military reflects this.