CHICAGO – In Wednesday’s annual State Budget Address, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich will launch an aggressive new DNA initiative that will put the Illinois State Police (ISP) on track to perform all forensic DNA analysis in-house, where work can be done more quickly and to the highest quality standards. By expanding lab capacity, continuing to hire additional forensic scientists and establishing an innovative new DNA Institute for recruiting and training a steady flow of forensic experts, the State Police will build on the significant progress made under the Blagojevich Administration and meet the ultimate goal of eliminating reliance on outside labs.
“As technology and scientific capabilities grow, DNA evidence is becoming an even more critical piece of our justice system. Getting results quickly can be key to the investigative process – it can mean ruling out innocent suspects, making a clear case against the guilty, or finding before-unknown criminal patterns,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “We increased funding for DNA work in the last three years to dramatically reduce the time it takes for law enforcement to get results. But in order to achieve the shortest turn-around time and the highest quality of work in the long-run, we need to give our State Police the resources to do all DNA analysis in their own labs. That means adding space to existing labs as well as putting a program in place to ensure we have an adequate supply of well-trained scientists to do the work.”
Gov. Blagojevich is proposing the creation of a DNA Institute in partnership with one or more state universities. Students will be able to apply for scholarships to attend the graduate-level forensic science program where they will receive top-notch training and have the opportunity to participate in paid internships within the ISP lab system. The scholarships would carry a requirement that upon graduation, scientists must work in Illinois forensic labs for at least four years. The Governor’s budget for fiscal year 2007 will include $500,000 for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission to provide up to 15 scholarships in the 2006-2007 school year.
ISP currently struggles to retain well-trained forensic scientists who are heavily recruited to take higher paying positions with private labs. Of the 15 new forensic recruits hired and put into training in the spring of 2004, five have already left ISP. Through the new DNA Institute, ISP will partner with a university to provide graduate students with two years of forensics training – including internship work in ISP labs – while they’re in school so they are fully prepared to begin working upon graduation, rather than putting them through up to two years of training when they are hired.
In addition to establishing the new Institute, the Governor will significantly expand capacity at the ISP’s two biggest labs – the State Police Laboratory in Chicago and the CODIS Laboratory in Springfield. The Fiscal Year 2007 budget will include $1.8 million for the planning and design of the $17 million project. The budget will also include funding to hire eight more forensic scientists for ISP labs.
When Gov. Blagojevich entered office in January of 2003, it took ISP an average of 10 months to process a forensic sample. From 2004 through 2006, the Governor provided an additional $7.3 million to hire more forensic scientists and to outsource a portion of the backlogged cases. As a result, ISP reduced the processing time to under 30 days this past summer. But after an unanticipated influx of old cases from the Chicago Police Department, delays with the outside labs and the cancellation of a contract with one of the nation’s leading outside labs because of unacceptably high error rates, the current processing time is about 80 days. State Police officials estimate they will achieve the 30-day turn around goal again by this summer.
With the expanded lab space and consistent supply of trained scientists from the DNA Institute, ISP will be able to analyze all DNA samples in-house. It costs approximately $2,100 to analyze a DNA sample in-house, compared to $2,700 to outsource a case. At least three percent of outsourced cases have to be re-tested in ISP labs as part of the quality assurance program. Not only will in-house processing reduce the average cost for DNA analysis, it will also cut down on the turn-around time and provide greater quality assurance over the entire process.