Prop 69: Tough on Crime on the Backs of Women and People of Color

By Guest Columnist Dec 05, 2008

Prop 69: Tough on Crime on the Backs of Women and People of Color Truc Thanh Nguyen, Generations Ahead In January 2009 California will begin the inclusion of felony arrestees into the state DNA database. The inclusion of those simply arrested and not convicted of any crime is not only unfair and discriminatory, but will additionally delay justice for women and other victims of rape and sexual assault. Recent articles in the NY Times and LA Times revealed that California state and local law enforcement agencies have failed to clear their DNA backlogs of rape kits and physical evidence from sexual assaults. The Los Angeles Police department (LAPD) has over 7,000 unprocessed rape kits (217 remained unprocessed over a decade). In West Virginia, the DNA case backlog grew by 20% in the second half of 2007. The U.S. Justice Department estimates that nationally, there are over 500,000 unsolved crimes that include 169,000 rapes with untested DNA evidence. The growing backlog in DNA cases delays justice for victims and in some cases, the delay has caused trials to be canceled. Even more concerning are the potentially preventable assaults and rape of other women. Why the backlog? In this case, it’s not totally due to a lack of funding. Tens of millions of dollars in federal grants were designated, through the Debbie Smith Act (reauthorized in 2008), to specifically reduce and eliminate state and local DNA backlogs. The Human Rights Watch who audited the LAPD, cited issues of poor planning, a lack of trained personnel and accountability. Prop 69’s inclusion of arrestee DNA is expected to exponentially grow California’s backlog. An estimated 165,000 DNA profiles of people who have not been convicted of any crime will be added annually. It is estimated that 40% of the DNA profiles are African American in the national DNA database, even though they are only 13% of the population. We can assume that this racial bias will be exacerbated with the inclusion of arrestees. As a community of mothers, daughters, friends and families, we need to question just how “tough on crime” this legislation really is. Will Prop 69 move us closer to or farther from protecting communities and delivering justice for both women and communities of color? This latest expansion of DNA databases will undoubtedly put women and other victims of rape at the end of the line for justice served, and increase the bias against communities of color.