New DOD sex offender reporting system planned for 2016
WASHINGTON – New Defense Department reporting requirements could soon mean better tracking of its uniformed child sex offenders, proponents say, even amid revelations this week that such offenders often move through the military prison system outside of public view.
Congress passed a law in May that requires the DOD to report the names of the military convicts to a federal sex offender database managed by the Department of Justice, and those names will be passed along to a searchable national internet database. However, the department said Tuesday that it is working on the new reporting system but has yet to set it up. It could be operational by mid-2016.
Lawmakers say the requirements will close dangerous loopholes in local sex offender registries across the country, which have allowed hundreds of military offenders to duck registration and been detailed in recent media investigations. The Associated Press found that child sex offenders make up the largest segment in military prisons but their identities and case information can be difficult to obtain.
“It is absolutely important that -- particularly those who are predators of children -- their names be available as other sex offenders are,” said Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Col., who sponsored legislation for a military sex offender registry. “They should not be shielded because they were in the military.”
The concern with convicts who skirt registration is that many will commit new sex assaults, Coffman said.
“The rate of recidivism is very high,” he said. “It is almost a guaranteed that it is going to occur again.”
The DOD provides names of its sex offenders to state jurisdictions where the convict will live and work after they are released from military detention. It also provides the names to the U.S. Marshals Service, which is supposed to confirm that offenders register locally.
But the department has failed to make the notifications in some cases. Offenders sometimes move and simply do not register with local authorities, according to Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who worked on the issue with Coffman.
The sponsor of the new reporting requirements, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said the rules for tracking sex offenders booted from the military have been “deeply problematic,” and law enforcement and citizens will now have better visibility when offenders move into communities.
An investigation in 2014-15 by the Scripps news service looked at 1,300 court martial cases and found that 242 military sex offenders, including rapists and abusers of children, avoided registration due to disconnects between the military and local authorities. Unlike civilians, military convicts are not required to register before they are released from confinement.
“We have always provided the names to the state sex offender registries in which the released member will live, work or go to school,” Lt. Col. Gabrielle Hermes, a DOD spokeswoman, wrote in a response to Stars and Stripes.
The law signed in May requires that the information also be sent to the U.S. attorney general to be added to the National Sex Offender Registry and the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website, which is named after a Minnesota woman who was killed by a convicted sex offender who had recently been released from prison.
“When the reporting systems are set up we will begin providing the names” to those databases, Hermes said.
The policy on reporting procedures is the first step and is expected to be completed by mid-2016, she said. The second step will be expanding the portal used to share information with the Department of Justice to include the military investigative agencies.
Sex offenders – especially those who abuse children – are a widespread problem in the military, according to the AP investigation. The report includes various accounts, including that of an Okinawa-based Marine who serially abused Philippine minors, and found that about 25 percent of the military’s prison population were convicted of child sex crimes.
When asked whether the high number of child sex offenders was a surprise, Don Christensen, a retired Air Force judge and president of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, said, “No, not at all.”
Up to a third of all cases with potentially long prison sentences during his career dealt with those offenders, Christensen said.
“I knew that we had a lot of child sex offenders,” he said. “Most serious offenders are child sex and sex offenders.”