Ky. announces plan to ensure DNA taken from felons

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Associated Press

Posted on December 12, 2013 at 3:02 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Corrections officials announced plans Wednesday to fix a faulty system and ensure DNA samples are taken from every Kentucky felon as required by law, acknowledging the failure to collect samples was more widespread than first reported.

The state disclosed in July it had failed to collect DNA samples from about 6,300 felons over a four-year period. At the time, the state said DNA had been collected from 75,600 felons since a 2009 change in Kentucky law required DNA samples from every felon.

But the Department of Corrections said Wednesday that an investigation found the number of missing samples actually totaled about 16,000.

The pool of missing DNA collections included more than 450 people convicted of violent offenses, the department said.

Gov. Steve Beshear ordered the Transportation Cabinet's inspector general to investigate what caused the compliance gaps. Since the embarrassing revelations came to light, the State Division of Probation and Parole has gained a new director.

Now, the corrections department's plan to plug those gaps includes a number of recommendations in the investigative report.

Beshear said Wednesday the issues raised in the inspector general's review are serious and warrant quick action.

"The Department of Corrections has implemented an aggressive action plan to retrieve DNA from these offenders in an expedited and efficient manner," the governor said. "DNA collection is mandated by law, and I fully expect all our agencies not only to collect the samples, but also to maintain accurate records of such, so that our DNA databases are up-to-date for law enforcement use."

The DNA samples, collected from cheek swabs, are added to state and national databases. Routinely obtaining DNA samples is common practice nationwide as the data banks can be checked by law enforcement agencies as an aid in solving crimes.

"We are taking steps, both within our agency and in concert with other partner agencies, to ensure not only the missed samples are taken, but that this failure is never repeated," said state Corrections Commissioner LaDonna Thompson.

The department said it has collected more than 6,300 of the missing DNA samples since the problem was revealed.

Some felons who owe DNA samples are still in custody. Others will have to report to probation and parole offices to provide samples. Nearly 85 percent of the missed DNA samples are for people convicted of property and drug-related crimes, the department said.

The investigative report cited a number of factors that led to the missing DNA samples, including a lack of accountability and follow-up measures. It said there was no disciplinary action for not collecting DNA, and employee performance evaluations didn't take into account DNA collections.

"While the implementation plan was thorough, there was a lack of sufficient controls, accountability measures or a reliable database to ensure compliance," the report said.

The report also cited occasional shortages of DNA kits and fingerprint pads.

The department said its plan includes a multi-level review already put in place to ensure a sample is taken from every offender prior to release from custody or supervision. Also, every probation and parole supervisor receives a daily list with names of offenders who haven't given samples.

The changes are meant to make it easier to detect the lack of DNA collections, said corrections department spokeswoman Lisa Lamb.

"We've made changes now to where basically it's like a big red flag," she said.

Also, samples are being collected immediately after the arrest of felons who avoided giving samples during their prior time in custody.

More ink pads have been given to probation and parole officers for fingerprinting at the time of DNA collection.

The department said probation and parole supervisors are expected to hold their staffs accountable for DNA collection. And probation and parole officers are receiving more training about DNA collection before beginning their duties, the department said.

The agency said it learned a small number of probation and parole staff did not properly document DNA collection. It said it will investigate the matter.

The state Division of Probation and Parole has undergone personnel changes in its top ranks since the revelations became public. The division has hired a new director, assistant director and two new branch managers.

The new managers "have a very clear mission in regards to DNA collections," Lamb said.

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