Databases

I think that everyone should give a DNA sample... Frankly, the remote possibility that Big Brother will one day be perusing my genetic fingerprint for some nefarious end worries me less than the thought that tomorrow a dangerous criminal may go free - perhaps only to do further evil - or an innocent individual may languish in prison for want of a simple DNA test.

(James Watson, DNA: The Secret of Life, p. 290)

On 13 October 1998, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officially launched its nation-wide DNA database. By the end of 2003, this database, named the COmbined DNA Index System or CODIS, contained over 1.5 million short tandem repeat (STR) profiles and linked all 50 states in the United States with the capability to search criminal DNA profiles in a similar fashion as the FBI fingerprint database. Since the first national DNA database was established in the United Kingdom in 1995, DNA databases around the world have revolutionized the ability to use DNA profile information to link crime scene evidence to perpetrators.

These databases are effective because a majority of crimes are committed by repeat offenders. In fact, more than 60% of those individuals put in prison for violent offenses and subsequently released were re-arrested for a similar offense in less than three years (McEwen and Reilly 1994, Langan and Levin 2002, Langan et al. 2003). This chapter will discuss the DNA databases being used in the United States and throughout the world to stop violent criminals, such as the introductory case reviewed in Chapter 1.

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