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It may surprise many to know that the first time DNA testing was used to convict a criminal was in 1986, when British police nabbed a serial rapist after matching his DNA to that found on victims.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation in the US now has more than five million entries in its DNA database of convicted criminals.
Under their law, convicts are forced to submit DNA samples and the theory is that this helps crime prevention and investigation – especially of person-to-person crimes like assault, rape and murder – in two main ways.
If a convict knows their DNA is on file, they will think twice about offending in the future.
And, if a convict does commit a crime again, they can be identified swiftly and prosecuted effectively if their DNA is found at a crime scene.
ALSO READ: Concerns raised over worsening DNA backlog
That, in theory, is how South Africa’s National Forensic DNA Database should work… but it doesn’t. And it doesn’t look like it will work in the foreseeable future.
That’s because there is already a massive backlog in testing at the SA Police Service forensic labs.
Tens of thousands of criminal cases are in abeyance while DNA results slowly trickle through.
Testing hundreds of thousands of released prisoners would bring the system to the point of collapse.
To make matters worse, there has been a delay in finalising the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Act 37 of 2013 and the Convicted Offenders Bill, which forces convicted Schedule 8 offenders (rape, murder, human trafficking, robbery and culpable homicide) to surrender a sample.
Justice Minister Ronald Lamola has revealed that since 2016, 96 875 prisoners have been freed without having to submit a DNA sample.
It is mind-boggling that these laws – along with a thorough overhaul of the forensic system – have not been made a priority.