Immediately after a sexual assault, some survivors submit to a physical exam to collect and preserve DNA and other evidence that may support later investigation or prosecution. This physical evidence is known as a sexual assault kit (SAK). Since 2011, the state of Texas has required that every SAK be submitted and processed by a crime lab.
In 2017, members of the Texas legislature introduced several bills to speed and track the processing of SAKs. One bill would require public crime labs to process all kits within 60 days of receipt.
How many kits are already being processed within 60 days? At the time the bill was filed, no one was sure. To find out, on March 2, 2017, my students and I filed a public information request with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). We asked how many SAKs were received by state crime labs between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2016, and how many were processed within 30, 60, and 90 days.
We received an answer on April 10. The results looked like this.
|Number of SAKs||% of submitted||% of completed|
|< 30 days||133||2%||3%|
|< 60 days||354||5%||7%|
|< 90 days||735||10%||15%|
|> 90 days||4,018||53%||85%|
The data answer the question we asked. Only 5 percent of SAKs are currently being processed within 90 days. Only 10 percent are being processed within 90 days.
The data also show that SAKs are coming in faster than state crime labs can turn them around. Over this 24 month period, state crime labs received 7,637 SAKs (318 per month), but they only finished processing 62 percent of them. So they started 2017 with a backlog of 2,884 SAKs–about 9 months worth–that they hadn’t yet processed from 2015 and 2016. Not to mention unprocessed cases from earlier years, including 3,604 still left from before 2011.
So currently state crime labs are nowhere close to the proposed standard of processing all SAKs within 90 days. And even the 2011 requirement to process all SAKs is not really being met. The SAKs are coming in, but state labs can’t keep up with them, and a backlog is growing. Given the length of time currently needed to process SAKs, it is no wonder that the House has passed another bill authorizing an electronic tracking system that would inform survivors about the location and status of their SAK.
It would be even better, of course, if survivors didn’t have to wait so long for evidence. One way to turn more SAKs around sooner would be to increase the state budget for SAK processing. Further information on the backlog and processing time would be needed to figure out how large a budget increase is necessary to achieve the state’s goals.
The alternatives, which may or may not be feasible, are to increase efficiency, or to reassign qualified scientists to SAKs from other tasks.