The House of Representatives has approved $8 million for the State Police Crime Laboratory to help pay for the collection and testing of sexual assault evidence kits.
The funding, which was included as part of a $135 million supplemental budget engrossed by the House on February 27, will be used to support an initiative championed by House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) to clear the statewide backlog of untested kits.
“Massachusetts has been making tremendous strides to recognize the needs of sexual assault survivors and help them achieve justice through our court system, and this funding will further enhance those efforts,” said Representative Jones. “The fact that we don’t even know the true number of untested kits in Massachusetts is completely unacceptable, but the changes we have been putting into place will go a long way towards correcting this and will send a clear message to survivors that the Commonwealth has not forgotten them.”
Working closely with the Joyful Heart Foundation – a national organization that advocates for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse – Representative Jones was able to secure language in the 2018 criminal justice reform law to address the current backlog of untested rape kits and create a statewide database for tracking these kits within the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS).
In October of 2018, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) at the US Department of Justice announced that it had awarded a $2 million grant to EOPSS as part of its Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) grant program. This grant funding can be used to inventory kits, to conduct testing, and to develop evidence-tracking systems, all of which is required under the criminal justice reform language filed by Representative Jones.
A multidisciplinary task force convened by the Secretary of Public Safety and Security and the Department of Public Health is currently working to develop a tracking system to provide sexual assault victims with continuous access to information on their kits. Once the system is up and running, victims will be able to track the status of their kits from their initial collection and receipt by law enforcement, through the testing and storage process.
A number of other states have passed rape kit reform laws, but the changes adopted in Massachusetts last year are among the most comprehensive in the nation.
Major cities like Cleveland, Detroit, and Memphis have tested thousands of backlogged kits in storage. In Detroit alone, a total of 11,341 kits were tested, resulting in 2,616 matches made on the DNA database, and allowing authorities to identify 811 potential serial rapists who have committed crimes in 40 states and Washington, D.C.
The funding for the State Police Crime Laboratory must still be approved by the Senate and signed by Governor Charlie Baker before it can be released.