Illinois officials announce 33 percent reduction in state forensic backlog

Published: Jul. 1, 2020 at 2:54 PM CDT
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On Wednesday, Illinois State Police (ISP) Director Brendan Kelly announced the State has achieved a 33-percent overall reduction in its biology and forensic DNA backlog.

In 2019 a Forensic Science Task Force was formed by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker to help reduce the backlog and address challenges of forensic services.

ISP said the task force includes 15 representatives from law enforcement, the defense bar, prosecutors, advocacy groups and more.

Kelly said, “The many forensic initiatives we’ve begun during Governor Pritzker’s time in office are converging to produce real results. Our forensic scientists have done good work to reduce the backlog, and now is the time to redouble those efforts and continue the momentum to build up this increasingly important pillar of the justice system. These recommendations will strengthen our ability to seek justice for victims and ensure justice isn’t delayed.”

You can find the state’s report by visiting the link here.

According to the report, “The DNA backlog is not a problem isolated to Illinois. As early as 2000, with the adoption of the DNA Backlog Elimination Act, the federal government began enacting grants to eliminate the DNA backlogs nationwide.”

In the state’s report, it said DNA testing in forensic cases is rapidly increasing for reasons, not limited to, but including: cold cases, post-conviction DNA testing, scientific advances, property crimes and the overall knowledge of potential that DNA has to solve cases.

“As part of our continued efforts, the state must seek out improvements in training, procurement and justice system communication that are essential to the continued reduction of forensic backlogs,” said Kelly.

Forensic backlogs are a challenge faced by crime laboratories across the country, explained Kelly. “Nationally, for every forensic assignment completed, another 1.2 are created. Backlogs are created in part by a greater demand by criminal justice stakeholders and the public for forensic testing, advancing technologies, including contact/touch DNA, submission of biology testing in property crimes, and resubmission of evidence in cases where certain types of testing was previously unavailable,” he said.

Kelly said the long-term under-investment in Illinois labs, combined with a lack of access to the latest technology contributed to the problem of the state’s backlog.

ISP said they have deployed technology to assist in reductions of backlogs and turnaround times, implemented laboratory accountability measures, robotics, Rapid DNA and more, including the hiring and training of additional forensic scientists.

Over $50 million in critical laboratory infrastructure to address forensic capacity was allocated by Governor Pritzker, which ISP said is the reason for seeing an overall 33 percent reduction in the biology and DNA forensic backlog.

ISP has also announced a new dashboard, which provides information on processing times and backlogs.

Kelly announced, “The DFS will continue efforts to implement an online sexual assault tracking system by the end of 2020. Once implemented, the sexual assault tracking system will allow survivors of sexual assault to monitor their evidence online throughout the entire process, from collection at the hospital, through law enforcement pick-up and submission to the forensic lab, and lastly to the State’s Attorney’s office where final results are received.”

ISP said the Forensic Science Task Force has met numerous times in recent months and produced a report of recommendations and goals, including creation of a permanent forensic science commission, improving the criminal justice communication system to reduce waste of forensic sciences, devoting more forensic scientist time to testing instead of testifying, streamlining forensic resources information to criminal justice stakeholders through training, creating a continuum of forensic scientist training, and reform and expediting procurement.

The state has six laboratories and nearly 500 forensic services personnel, according to Kelly.

He said DFS completed more than 70,000 forensic assignments last year.

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