FBI and NIJ Announce Partnership to Test More Rape Kits

Gavel and sound block

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and National Institute of Justice (NIJ) have partnered to expand the testing of sexual assault forensic exam kits (rape kits). Under the program, the FBI laboratory will accept and process a limited number of kits from local law enforcement agencies and public forensic laboratories.

The FBI will focus on kits from crimes that took place more than one year ago, in order to reduce the national backlog of untested evidence. NIJ is the division of the Justice Department that oversees forensic research and DNA testing programs.

The FBI/NIJ program will supplement testing being done by crime labs in each state. This year, the federal government will provide states with about $117 million for DNA testing through the Debbie Smith Act. States and some local law enforcement agencies provide additional funding for testing.

The Debbie Smith program is set to expire later this year, unless renewed by Congress, which would jeopardize the future of rape kit testing. The House of Representatives has passed a bill reauthorizing the law, while the Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a larger bill, the Justice for All Act, which includes the Debbie Smith law. “RAINN is working hard to get Congress to renew Debbie Smith before it expires. This funding is crucial to law enforcement agencies, and has helped take thousands of rapists off our streets,” said Rebecca O’Connor, RAINN’s vice president for public policy.

While testing capacity has increased, demand for DNA testing has increased even faster: The Justice Department recently reported that public crime labs processed 10% more DNA cases in 2011 than in 2009, while demand for such tests grew by 16%. It has been estimated that there are about 100,000 cases awaiting testing at crime labs. Many additional cases are backlogged at the law enforcement level, and have not yet been sent to labs to be tested. Because of this “hidden” law enforcement backlog, the total number of kits yet to be tested is unknown.

The new program complements efforts currently underway by a working group at NIJ charged, under the recently enacted SAFER Act, with developing national best practices and protocols on the collection and processing of DNA evidence. NIJ is also expected, under the SAFER Act, to soon release funds to law enforcement agencies to audit their un-submitted kits.

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