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Federal Bureau of Prisons Says DNA Backlog No Longer Exists

In July 2011, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced that it had eliminated a backlog of over 90,000 DNA samples from federal prisoners. This milestone occurred more than a decade after Congress passed the DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act in 2000.

Florida Congressman Vern Buchanan, who had drawn attention to the backlog, was pleased with the long-delayed results. “DNA is an extremely important and effective tool for law enforcement,” he stated. “I will continue to work with the Bureau of Prisons to ensure that DNA evidence is available in a timely manner to help prevent violent crimes in the future.”

DNA samples are now taken from BOP prisoners when they enter the prison system rather than when they leave, and the samples are processed within 30 days after receipt by the FBI laboratory.

According to a September 2011 report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Justice, “Our review determined that as of September 2010, the FBI Laboratory’s Federal DNA Database Unit had effectively eliminated its backlog of convicted offender, arrestee, and detainee DNA samples. We determined that the FBI reduced this backlog from over 312,000 samples in December 2009 to a workload of approximately 14,000 samples in May 2011.” The FBI lab can process approximately 16,000 samples a month.

The backlog of hundreds of thousands of DNA samples was eliminated through “hiring additional personnel and contractors, using high throughput robotics, implementing Expert System software for a semi-automated review of DNA profiles after completion of analysis, and reconfiguring laboratory space for more efficient processing,” the OIG report stated.

Rep. Buchanan had become interested in the DNA backlog issue after Florida police arrested a murder suspect, Delmer Smith III, in 2009. Smith was charged with using a sewing machine to bludgeon Kathleen Briles to death in her home on August 3, 2009, which authorities said could have been prevented had Smith’s DNA been entered into the federal database shortly after he went to prison for bank robbery.

Lack of a readily-available DNA sample prevented Sarasota police detectives from immediately linking Smith to four other home invasion attacks which had occurred prior to Briles’ death. Smith’s DNA was first linked to the Briles case after it was entered into the FBI database following his arrest for a bar fight. [See: PLN, Aug. 2010, p.14].

According to Rep. Buchanan, “We must remain vigilant in being sure we do not repeat the mistakes that the Bureau of Prisons [made].... Unfortunately, in our community a violent criminal remained at-large and was able to keep committing crimes.”

Manatee County Sheriff Bard Steube stated, “First, we ought to give Congressman Buchanan our gratitude for pushing this issue. It’s another tool to help fight crime.”
Briles’ widower, Dr. James Briles, echoed that sentiment, saying, “Hopefully it will help solve some unsolved crimes and keep people safe in the future.”

Smith is now facing first-degree murder and burglary charges in connection with Briles’ death, with a trial date scheduled for July 2012. He was sentenced to life in prison on December 28, 2011 for an unrelated home invasion robbery.

Beginning in April 2009, the FBI began collecting DNA samples from pretrial detainees as well as convicted prisoners and people held on immigration charges. [See: PLN, Sept. 2009, p.39]. The FBI’s DNA database, the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), currently contains over 10.6 million DNA profiles from offenders. Searches of CODIS using DNA evidence have resulted in over 176,000 matches in criminal investigations.

Sources: Bradenton Herald;; “Audit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Convicted Offender, Arrestee, and Detainee DNA Backlog,” U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Audit Report 11-39 (September 2011)

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