WASHINGTON, D.C. - The 2006 Adam Walsh Act requires that convicted sex offenders publicly register with law enforcement authorities in the localities where they chose to live following their release from prison. The idea, and it is a good one, is to head off repeat offenses, allow residents to know who is living in their neighborhood and give parents the chance to check the background of who is dating their daughter.
But there is a gaping hole in the law, just how gaping was revealed by a Scripps News investigation into convicted military sex offenders who are released into civilian life. The military counts on the freed offenders to self-register with the authorities where they finally settle.
Many simply disappear from the public radar screen, and their names do not appear on any public registry. Because state and military laws and regulations do not mesh, some go on to prey again and again. Reconciling these differences and closing this dangerous gap will require Congress to act.
How bad is this gap? The nine-month Scripps review of more than 1,300 cases showed that the crimes of at least 242 convicted military sex offenders remain invisible to the public. Those figures are in accordance with the Department of Defense Inspector General’s own study of one quarter last year that showed 20 percent of 197 released offenders failed to register.
One who slipped under the radar was Zimman Casey, an Army private convicted of assault and “indecent acts” on a young girl. After serving his sentence, Casey headed to Texas, his crime did not appear on any public registry, and within five years he was convicted of three more incidents of sexually assaulting a minor under 14.
Once an offender is out of the military and its prisons, the military no longer has the legal right to enforce registration. Early this year the Pentagon began notifying the U.S. Marshals Service prior to the release of sex offenders, but the Marshals Service is only focusing on those released since 2013.
One fix is a bill planned by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., a member of the Armed Services Committee, that would require the Pentagon to create its own sex offender registry and make the database accessible to law enforcement authorities.
The U.S. military, although often unnecessarily secretive and slow to act, has unsurpassed organization skills. Given some congressional prodding and funding, a complete and accessible registry of its sex offenders is not an insurmountable problem.
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