Congress is poised to approve $41 million sought by the Obama administration to examine untested DNA evidence collected from rape victims and held by state and local police, reports the Washington Post. No firm count exists, but discoveries in New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas and Detroit suggest that the nationwide total of untested kits never sent to laboratories and kept in police storage exceeds 100,000, some of them held for decades. Victims usually are unaware that their kits have not been tested, and members of both parties have called the backlogs a national scandal. The full Senate is set to take up the funding today as part of a $51.2 billion 2015 budget bill for the Justice Department and other agencies.
The House voted May 30 for a budget bill with the funding. Concern has grown over how the Justice Department has allocated more than $1.2 billion since 2004 for programs to expand DNA testing at crime labs. While officials said the funding was aimed at clearing rape-kit backlogs, which have become a symbol of problems in the handling of sexual-assault cases, much of the money has gone toward broader purposes. While the problem of untested evidence kits in crime labs has been known, the discovery of kits never submitted to labs has reenergized advocates, who say the new grants would target rape kits and help local authorities prioritize and reform the investigation and prosecution of sex crimes overall. The New York-based Joyful Heart Foundation, an advocacy group for survivors of rape, domestic violence and child abuse, pushed for the new grant program and is seeking police records to determine the scope of the problem in 15 large U.S. cities, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, Tulsa, Miami, Seattle and Las Vegas.