The Arkansas State Crime Lab has been awarded a grant from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office to process some 1,500 sexual assault evidence kits, or “rape kits,” Manhattan DA Cyrus R. Vance announced yesterday.
The $97,121 grant to Arkansas is from the Manhattan office’s Criminal Justice Investment Fund, which is funded by hundreds of millions of dollars in asset forfeiture from settlements with international banks in New York that violated the terms of U.S. sanctions.
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In total, the office announced $38 million in 32 awards to resolve processing backlogs in cities and states across the country. Tennessee and Kentucky also received grants, as did local jurisdictions in Texas and Missouri. Arkansas’s grant is the smallest of those announced.
The announcement was paired with a $41 million commitment of federal funds from the U.S. Justice Department to further clear backlogs on processing sexual assault forensic evidence. Said the Manhattan DA’s office in its press release: “Every jurisdiction that applied for funding is receiving it through either the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office or [federal funds]; no city or state that reported a backlog was turned away.”
End the Backlog, an advocacy website with a self-explanatory name, notes that Arkansas passed a law this year that “directs the State Crime Laboratory to conduct an annual sexual assault evidence inventory audit of all law enforcement agencies and healthcare providers.” However, it continues, “while this law will allow us to have a more accurate picture of the backlog in Arkansas, the legislature must take additional steps to provide survivors with greater access to justice, including requiring the testing of all rape kits booked into evidence.”
The DA’s office said it has established agreements with two forensic laboratories to test the evidence from the kits at a cost of “less than $675 per kit – significantly less than the estimated nationwide average of $1,000 to $1,500 per kit.”
From the D.A.’s release:
Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch joined District Attorney Vance to announce the recipients of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance’s (BJA) separate, but complementary, $41 million Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (“SAKI”) Grant Program, which is expected to test approximately 13,500 kits in 20 jurisdictions.
“Today is a historic day for survivors of sexual assault across the country,” said District Attorney Vance. “Our $38 million investment means that more than 56,000 sexual assault kits will finally be tested, providing hope to tens of thousands of women who summoned the courage to report a rape and undergo an invasive examination. These grants will generate leads in thousands of cases across the country, some of them decades old. Tackling the national rape kit backlog means addressing a women’s and human rights issue that has been ignored for far too long. We are refusing to accept that some criminal justice problems are just too big – too ingrained, too controversial, too expensive – to solve.
Vice President Biden said: “Rape kits are an essential tool in modern crime fighting — not only for the victim, but, for the entire community. Studies show we solve up to 50 percent of previously unsolved rapes when these kits are tested. When we solve these cases, we get rapists off the streets. For most survivors, seeing their rapists brought to justice, and knowing that they will not return, brings peace of mind and a sense of closure. The grants we’re announcing today to reduce the national rape kit backlog will bring that sense of closure and safety to victims while improving community safety.”
Here’s some explanation from the New York Times regarding the D.A.’s logic in making grants to state and local jurisdictions:
Mr. Vance defended his decision to send $38 million in aid to other cities and states, arguing that rapists do not respect state lines. Information from evidence kits in other cities, he said, will help solve crimes in New York and can also be used to identify serial offenders.
The experience of prosecutors in cities that have already addressed their backlogs of rape kits bears this theory out, Mr. Vance said. In Detroit, for instance, prosecutors tested 2,000 kits languishing in a storehouse in 2009, turning up DNA matches related to unsolved crimes in 23 states.