DNA Typing in Corrections

By Loftus, Patricia | Corrections Today, July 1999 | Go to article overview

DNA Typing in Corrections


Loftus, Patricia, Corrections Today


The FBI's Combined DNA Index System Helps Corrections and Law Enforcement Professionals Monitor Inmates and Solve Crimes

The typing of DNA from biological evidence is one of the most important developments in forensic science. DNA analysis provides scientists with a reliable way to eliminate from suspicion individuals falsely associated with a biological sample and to significantly reduce the number of potential contributors. The current DNA technology is comprised of a myriad of genetic markers, multiple DNA typing strategies, powerful computers and specialized software. In aggregate, these elements make the development of DNA profiles and the searching of DNA databases relatively quick and easy. Because they can be generated much more rapidly than a decade ago, DNA databases are used to search DNA profiles and records in an increasing number of violent crimes.

After recognizing and demonstrating that DNA typing could support human identification in a forensic setting, the FBI developed a comprehensive DNA program with four major components. First, the FBI performs DNA analysis on cases submitted by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Since the first case was submitted to the FBI in 1988, the DNA Analysis Unit has performed more than 20,000 examinations. Second, the FBI has a program dedicated to applied research and the development of DNA technology. For example, the FBI has pioneered many of the laboratory protocols used in forensic analysis throughout the United States. Third, the FBI actively engages in technology transfer by sharing information with other law enforcement agencies through training, standards, publications, professional symposia and technical consultation. In this vein, the FBI developed the Scientific Working Group on DNA Analysis Methods (SWGDAM), a collaboration of local, state and forensic scientists. Finally, the FBI created and operates a national database of DNA profiles called the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). CODIS helps investigators identify suspects of violent crimes and increase the efficacy of forensic laboratories by providing software to conduct DNA casework and perform statistical calculations.

Recognizing a Need

According to statistics compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 300,000 sexual assaults occur annually in the United States. Recognizing the tendency of sex offenders to commit multiple crimes, and that biological evidence often is recovered from sex-related crime scenes, SWGDAM conceived CODIS. By combining forensic DNA technology with computer software applications, CODIS can help the law enforcement community solve violent crimes that would not be solved through other means.

Another important fact relating to the need for CODIS involves the return of convicted offenders to their communities. Approximately 234,000 offenders convicted of sexual assault are under the control or care of correctional agencies, and nearly 60 percent of these sex offenders are under some type of conditional supervision in the community [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. Furthermore, individuals convicted of sexual offenses return to society from incarceration in a relatively short time. The average period of incarceration served by a convicted rapist is about 5 years; those incarcerated for other sexual assaults typically serve less than 3 years.

CODIS - Combined DNA Index System

CODIS blends forensic science and computer technology to create an effective tool for providing investigative leads and/or solving violent crimes. To completely facilitate the comparison of DNA profiles nationally, CODIS must be a fully integrated network among crime laboratories. To this end, CODIS enables local, state and federal law enforcement crime laboratories to exchange and compare DNA profiles (genetic characteristics that result from DNA analysis) electronically, link serial violent crimes and identify potential suspects by comparing DNA profiles from crime scene evidence to those of convicted offenders. …

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