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Military sex offenders set free in San Diego

It's a local program that attempts to rehabilitate sex offenders from across the country. So why does it release them back into San Diego neighborhoods?See our investigation, tonight, only on CBS N...
MCAS MIRAMAR, Calif. (CBS 8) -- Hundreds of sex offenders are serving time in the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar on the San Diego Marine base, including rapists and child molesters.

They are from all branches of the military and they come here from all over the country to go through the Navy's Sex Offender Treatment Program.

After serving time behind bars they eventually get set free. The Navy said, on average, six sex offenders per year who are released from the brig at Miramar decide to live in San Diego County.

Under Megan's Law, Californians can track sex offenders on a public web site. The
Megan's Law site
lists sex offender photographs, criminal history and addresses.

But the offenders inside the brig at Miramar are exempt from those reporting requirements because they are in the military.

Timothy Purcell is the deputy director of Navy Corrections & Programs at Navy Personnel Command in Millington, Tennessee.

Timothy E. Purcell
Deputy Director of Navy Corrections & Programs
Extended telephone interview audio clips:

“Posting such information on a public web site would violate federal law. The federal law I speak of is the Privacy Act,” said Purcell in a telephone interview with CBS News 8.

Purcell said the law would have to be changed to release the names of military sex offenders to the public on a web site. And, that is exactly what a recent report from the Department of Defense Inspector General's office recommended.

The August 2014 report concluded: “The lack of jurisdiction for (the Department of Defense) to register military sex offenders with the National Sex Offender Registry enables military sex offenders released from military prisons to evade sex offender registration requirements.”

On a nationwide average, 20 percent of military sex offenders fail to comply with registration requirements upon their release, according to the Inspector General's report.

Deputy Director Purcell pointed out that the same report found the Navy to be in compliance with sex offender notification laws.

Still, Purcell said, “Should the Department of Defense policy change, Navy will also change to comply with whatever the policy requires.”

At the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar, only about of the half of the 200 sex offenders in custody actually agree to participate in the Navy's two-year Sex Offender Treatment Program.

“Most non-participation is a result of not having sufficient time remaining on their sentence. Some prisoners refuse to participate,” wrote Purcell in an emailed response to questions.

The offenders who do participate get special privileges in exchange for undergoing group therapy sessions, lie detector exams and sexual arousal testing using a device called a penile plethysmograph.

CBS News 8 first reported on the controversial plethysmograph exams ten years ago. The mercury-filled transducer device is similar to an elastic band that the offender places on his penis in the privacy of a room.

In 2004, a team of experts demonstrated to CBS News 8 how sex offender arousal levels are measured using pornography and sexually charged audio recordings.

Offenders also are required to keep diaries detailing sexual urges and masturbation fantasies while in custody, according to records obtained in 2004 by CBS News 8.

The treatment program aims to reprogram the offender away from deviant sexual behavior and toward a more normal sexual attraction.

“It sounds very hocus-pocus but what we do know is that it does work. It works for most people. Not all people,” said sex offender treatment expert Margaret Bullens in a 2004 interview with CBS News 8.

Of course, the big question is, do these military sex offenders commit new crimes after they get out? Navy officials can't answer that question because they do not track the offenders once they are released from the brig at Miramar and discharged.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, CBS News 8 requested from the Navy records showing the names of all sex offenders released from the Miramar brig to live in San Diego County, over the past five years.

The Navy denied our request on privacy grounds. The request currently is under appeal.

Purcell did reveal that, on average, six sex offenders per year get released from the Miramar brig and end up living in San Diego County.

“We can't control as an organization where they elect to go,” said Purcell.

Once they do get out, the military sex offenders have five days to register with local police.

“The Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar works closely with the local San Diego county and city… in ensuring the registration processing requirements are met,” said Purcell.

In some cases, military sex offenders are supervised for extended time periods by federal parole agents after their release from Miramar.

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