As of Aug. 29 there were 205 backlogged rape kits waiting to be processed at the state’s troubled crime lab, according to a Sept. 1 legislative report.
All sexual assault evidence collection kits used for prosecuting rape cases are required to be tested at the state’s Forensic Science Laboratory. They are considered backlogged if they aren’t handled within 30 days of their receipt.
Analyzing the kits is a three-step process, the report said. First, the lab’s staff triages cases, giving greater priority to violent sexual assault and cases involving the assault of very young or old victims. They then analyze the evidence and if they find DNA, it is passed along to Nuclear Casework Group for DNA analysis.
In addition to the 205 backlogged cases 40 more cases are awaiting DNA analysis, the report said.
Because the facility is chronically understaffed, the lab said it’s going to be awhile before it can process all the cases.
According to the report, the Department of Public Safety’s legislative liaison Major William Podgorski estimated it would take more than six months for the lab to address the backlogged cases and five months to process the other 40.
“If the lab received no more kits for the next six months, it could eliminate its backlog,” the report said.
The backlogs are not a new phenomenon. A separate report dated February, 2010 compared Connecticut’s average turnaround time for forensic tests with 34 other states. It didn’t compare favorably.
“Connecticut’s turnaround times were the longest in nine categories; tied with another state for being the longest in three categories; within the ranges provided by the other reporting laboratories in nine categories; and was the shortest in one category,” it said.
On average, it takes the state six months to turnaround a sex crimes kit, the report found. Connecticut tied with Rhode Island for have the longest turnaround time in that category. But in a separate category of sex crime kits with evidence, the state’s turnaround time jumped to 12 months, while Rhode Island’s remained six.
Michael P. Lawlor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s top criminal justice adviser, said 4 or 5 years of neglect have left the crime lab is in an unacceptable state.
“For a variety of reasons we end up with a serious backlog problem for all sorts of things not just rape kits,” he said.
The Office of Legislative Research report detailing the rape kit backlog only adds to the negative attention the lab has recently garnered.
Last month the lab made news when preliminary federal audits brought to light the facility’s staffing shortages and a forensic backlog of several thousand cases. Later, the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board dropped the lab’s accreditation.
In a prepared statement following the preliminary federal audits, Malloy said Connecticut’s forensic backlogs ranked the worst in the nation last year but the lab may continue to lose staff.
“Since 2005, the overall workload at the lab has increased by 25 percent, but the volume of DNA evidence testing has increased by 400 percent. At the same time, there are 10 percent fewer scientists at the lab, many of whom are durational employees and depend on federal grants that may disappear in the near future,” he said.
Lawlor said the governor’s administration is working hard to get the lab re-accredited in the short term and have established a working group of experts to address the facility’s systemic long-term problems. Lawlor heads the group, which he said has already been at work finding ways to rectify the situation.
“We want to get the crime lab to where it once was, a model for the nation,” he said.
Malloy said he’s confident that can be accomplished even in the state’s tough economic climate by maximizing efficiencies and updating the lab’s administrative practices to mirror national best practices.
Members of the accreditation team are at the crime lab all this week and Lawlor said he expects to see the state’s accreditation renewed sometime in October. Lawlor said the fact that the lab lost its accreditation has not affected the lab’s work. He compared it to being in an honor society, good to have but not necessary for operation.