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Illinois Could Finally Tackle Its Huge Rape Kit Backlog With Money From The Feds

By Sophie Lucido Johnson in News on Apr 22, 2016 5:11PM

The embarrassing ongoing Illinois state budget crisis has cut short thousands of state-funded resources. (Amtrak, public universities and programming for juvenile offenders are among the entities hit by cuts and closures.) Adding insult to injury is the woeful backlog of DNA kits that the state has ben unable to test during the budget impasse. A national campaign in Chicago last week aimed to bring attention to the issue, and Replican Illinois Senator Mark Kirk seems to have taken notice.

Kirk's office told the Chicago Sun-Times that the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved $125 million yesterday to help expedite the process of testing the massive backlog of DNA evidence across the country, including in Illinois. President Obama's budget had proposed a $20 million cut to DNA testing, but Kirk's committee restored and added to the funding. The backlog funding was part of a larger funding bill that passed 30-0 and awaits approval in Congress.

The Sun-Times reported that Chicago police and prosecutors typically wait about a year for DNA test results. In interviews with ABC Chicago, survivors testified to waiting even longer than that. The advocacy groups Test 400K and Chicago Says No More recently worked together to host a national forum on the issue, and commissioned a piece of artwork by artist Drue Kataoka made up of 400,000 dots—one for each person awaiting testing on a DNA kit in America. The project, titled "400,000 Is Not a Number," highlights how Illinois' budget crisis has further stalled backlogs.

Kirk's office told the Sun-Times that this U.S. Senate funding includes $117 million for backlog reduction, $4 million for sexual assault nurse examiners and $4 million for post-conviction DNA testing. The Department of Justice will use five percent of the funding for grants to local law enforcement agencies to conduct backlog audits in order to prioritize rape kits that face a statute of limitations expiration.

Correction, May 6: This post previously incorrectly called the artist Drue Kataoka "Drue Dakota," and reported the title of her piece was "Test 400K" instead of its correct name, "400,000 Is Not a Number." It also incorrectly called the advocacy group Chicago Says No More "Say No More Chicago" and omitted the contributions of Test 400K.