New database programs are on the rise, but much work needs to be done globally for criminal offender databases to hit their full potential

By Tim Schellberg, President, Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs

In the last twelve months, a number of countries have been actively positioning to begin criminal offender DNA database programs. Ireland and South Africa became the 53rd and 54th countries respectively to implement legislation to create a national DNA database program. Ireland passed their legislation in June 2014, and officially began collecting DNA last November from most convicted criminals. South Africa passed its legislation in January 2014 to require DNA from the most arrested and convicted criminals. Albeit slowly, the collection of DNA in South Africa has officially started.

The 55th country to fully implement their database program will likely be Italy. The Italian Ministry of Justice announced in March 2016 that it has completed all of the regulations and lab preparations necessary to begin their long-awaited criminal DNA database program. The collection of samples is expected to begin in late 2016. 

In addition to the countries moving forward with legislative implementation, there are a number of countries that are working to advance legislation for the first time. Take for example, Algeria, which on April 20, 2016, became the first country in northern Africa to pass criminal offender DNA database legislation. The legislation will require the most convicted and arrested criminals to have their DNA placed in the database. Algeria will now start working on the implementation process in the next few years and hopes to join the other 54 countries that have implemented this legislation. Based on the discussion on DNA database legislation at the ministry and parliamentary level, Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs expects an additional 10 countries to pass and implement DNA database legislation in the next 5 to 10 years.

While the growth of new DNA database programs are on the rise, much more work needs to be done to make the existing 54 nationwide DNA programs more effective. There are over 70 million offender profiles contained in the national database programs. This is an impressive number. However, if the four largest databases are not counted (China, The United States, The United Kingdom, and France) only 11 million offender samples exist. This suggests that very few countries have robust databases capable of the hit rates necessary to realize the full potential of DNA databasing.

Countries with mature arrestee databases, such as New Zealand and the United Kingdom, can achieve hit rates near 70%. If countries wish to achieve similar hit rates to solve and prevent crime, they need to evaluate their legislation and consider policies that will allow more criminal offender profiles to be added to the database.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the speaker and Gordon Thomas Honeywell Government Affairs and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Thermo Fisher Scientific.