ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Wrongful convictions, evidence backlogs and undelivered justice – these are issues that the state’s new Forensic Science Commission hopes to address.
For victims of violent crime or those wrongfully accused, the wait for justice can be agonizing. Until recently, Illinois State Police faced a significant backlog of untested evidence. They’re working to change that.
“If we want to reduce crime, we have to solve crime,” Illinois State Police Director Brendan F. Kelly said in a press conference Monday after the commission met for the first time.
According to ISP, new technology and increased staffing helped reduce the total forensic backlog by 72% over the past two years. Kelly said they ended last year with the lowest biology DNA backlog since 2010, and the lowest toxicology backlog in 15 years.
“Bad science has convicted people and sent them to prison for years and years and years before the correct science ultimately wins the day and gets the person out of prison with all those years lost,” retired Illinois Innocence Project Executive Director John Hanlon said. “Prison cells should be reserved for guilty, violent people. Of course, the ‘guilty’ is an important part of that.”
The commission said they’re focusing on education, training, funding and hiring. The goal? To get victims answers faster, and exonerate the wrongfully accused. They’re also opening new labs in Decatur and Joliet.
“The commission will review all aspects of forensic services practices with the goal of reducing or eliminating inefficiencies that contribute to the backlogs and errors,” Kelly said.
Instead of untested evidence piling up indefinitely, they’re now aiming for a 30-day or less turnaround time. A victim advocate with the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault said she looks forward to eventually eliminating the backlog entirely.
“Survivors should never have to be forced to wait in an analysis limbo for months or even years before hearing if their case can move forward, and our state has been doing so much better,” ICASA CEO Carrie Ward said. “We are relieved and heartened by that progress.”
She said a new online evidence tracking system has also made a difference. It allows survivors to follow the process of testing from beginning to end. Because sometimes, she said they “just want to know what’s happening.”
“Change isn’t easy but it has been necessary to address the system delays and provide the closure that survivors need,” Ward said.
The commission claimed they will be working hard to hire more personnel across organizations. For example, Governor Pritzker’s budget suggests adding 300 more ISP cadets. That would be the largest addition in history.