National DNA database
What's the issue?
The national DNA database for England and Wales is a powerful tool in the identification and conviction of offenders. In 2009-10 over half a million searches of the DNA database were carried out, and there were 36,399 matches between DNA profiles and crime scenes. The government is now taking legislation through parliament which will reduce the number of DNA profiles, and could make it more difficult to solve crimes.
The DNA database in England and Wales is the largest per capita DNA database in the world, containing almost five million DNA profiles. The DNA database provides the police with thousands of matches every month, and in 2009 there were over 800 matches in cases of rape, murder and manslaughter. The majority of the active criminal population is now believed to have its DNA recorded on the database.
At present, the DNA of anyone arrested for a recordable offence can be retained indefinitely, irrespective of whether or not they are charged. Measures to restrict the time limits for retaining DNA profiles of people arrested but not charged were included in the Crime and Security Act 2010, but not implemented. The government is now bringing forward further changes, in the form of the Protection of Freedoms Bill, which will mean that the DNA samples and profiles of people arrested or charged (but not convicted of) a minor offence will be destroyed immediately. The DNA samples and profiles of people arrested or charged but not convicted of a more serious offence will be destroyed after three years.
What’s the problem?
Reducing the amount of time that DNA profiles are stored on the DNA database could make it harder for the police to catch offenders and bring them to justice. Victims want to see justice done, and this means catching and punishing offenders.
Crime detection rates are woefully low – only around a quarter of crimes are ever solved. The government should be doing everything it can to help the police to catch offenders, not hampering them by reducing the effectiveness of the DNA database.
The government is proposing to remove the DNA samples of people arrested or charged but not convicted of an offence. However, there is some evidence that people who are arrested or changed, but not convicted, are just as likely to commit a subsequent offence as those who are convicted.
Cutting back the DNA database will mean that offenders are more likely to get away with their crimes, and go on to reoffend. This could create more victims in the future.
What’s the solution?