Rep. Tarr says rape kits one more example of why Alaska must continue efforts to reform and improve its broken criminal justice system
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 3, 2017
Juneau – As SB 54, the crime and sentencing bill recommended by the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission makes its way through the Alaska Legislature’s 4th Special Session, another report highlighting reform efforts in Alaska was released this week.
The report and response from Governor Walker (attached) were required by Senate Bill 55, the omnibus crime bill sponsored by Senate Judiciary and passed this spring, which included language sponsored by Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage) to require an audit of untested sexual assault “kits.” The “kits” are described as a set of items used by medical personnel or trained professionals for the preservation of physical evidence collected from a person, living or deceased, following an allegation or suspicion of sexual assault; they may come in a packaged box in more recent years or in bags, or as individual swabs in the past.
Results of the statewide sexual assault kit inventory in Alaska include:
- 46 of the 49 agencies submitted results in time (94% compliance rate, 3 small agencies are still pending).
- 3,484 kits found to be in the possession of law enforcement agencies that had not been submitted to a lab.
- 92% of these, or 3,219 kits, were in the seven largest agencies in the state.
- Anchorage PD has 1,823 (53%) of the unsubmitted kits.
- The most common reason for not testing kits: DA’s office declined the case. Testing a kit was not needed or expected to be useful for prosecution. (However, research shows value of testing kits independent of prosecution).
Rep. Tarr pointed to the example of the need for SB 55 and DNA testing after a recent successful arrest of a man Anchorage police called a “serial rapist” after his sentencing in 2017 for sexually assaulting eight women over a period of 15 years. Clifford Lee was arrested for sexual assault in 2014. His DNA evidence linked him back to crimes committed in 2001. He is now in prison for 70 years.
“When tested, DNA evidence contained inside rape kits is an invaluable investigative tool to solve and prevent crime. In Alaska we have almost 3500 kits that have not been tested. We know from the work in other states that this DNA evidence will take dangerous criminals off the street. It needs a priority for the next legislature,” said Rep. Tarr. “The time we spent on SB 91 and SB 55, and the time we are spending on SB 54, is time well spent.”
Representative Tarr is working with the Alaska’s Department of Public Safety and supporting their work to develop a sexual assault kit testing policy based on recommendations made by the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) working group, established by Governor Walker in 2016.
“When you are looking at reforming the criminal justice system, your work is never done,” said Rep. Tarr. “Sen. Coghill, the Governor, and the Department of Public Safety have been working with the House Coalition on this for a long time, and we have much more work to do. We can and will continue to make positive change for the public’s safety.”
Growing awareness of sexual assault evidence and using enhanced DNA technologies is in part due to the efforts of the Joyful Heart Foundation, a national non-profit that has been working closely with Rep. Tarr.
For more information, please contact Rep. Geran Tarr at (907) 269-0144.