Monday, January 27, 2014

Taking DNA from juveniles

An Arkansas judge last week decided the state’s contract juvenile center went too far when taking DNA samples from a 13-year-old. The youth had committed a felony, and state law says juvenile felons will surrender DNA samples, but only for specific crimes. The 13-year-old’s crimes were not on the state list, the judge noted; therefore, taking his DNA was not justified or legal.

So far, so good. But when the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette asked the state for the number of juveniles whose DNA had been taken since the law was passed, the state responded with this amazing** statement: The request could not be met, since another contract company ran the juvenile incarceration facilities until 2007, and some of those records might have been lost. (** Amazing until you remember (1) the respondent is a government agency; and, (2) it is Arkansas.)

Like me, you might say, “Wait a minute! The state did not require or even ask for records kept by the previous contractor? And some of the records might have been lost? You either have them or you don’t.”

The problem the State of Arkansas faces is, for a long number of years, DNA was taken illegally from juvenile felons. That fact brings the likelihood of law suits.

And … The state lab that processes and stores DNA samples says it never got samples from the 13-year-old. A lab spokesman said there is no record of anything on the boy.

The juvenile prison contractor said the samples were sent by FedEx. That is good to know. Having a non-governmental company involved in the process means somebody might find out who’s not exactly telling the truth.

But then, it is in Arkansas, and the rug under which stuff is swept is a big, big rug.

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