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Oklahoma Jails Begin Collecting DNA from Arrestees

Whitney Bryen-Oklahoma Watch

With no announcement, Oklahoma jails are beginning to collect DNA from individuals arrested on felony charges – the first step in implementing a controversial state law passed two years ago.

So far, hundreds of jail inmates have had the insides of their cheeks swabbed, and the samples have been forwarded to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, which soon will analyze and upload the genetic profiles to a national FBI database. The goal is to connect arrestees to unsolved crimes, which could lead to additional charges.

Oklahoma County confirmed that it is swabbing arrested inmates, and an OSBI spokeswoman said 12 agencies have been trained so far on collecting DNA from arrestees. A list of those agencies wasn’t immediately available. A Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said the county jail has not yet started the process.

The collection of DNA from people arrested, but not yet convicted, on felony charges has spurred opposition from civil rights groups. The Legislature approved the program in 2016, but it has been stalled by lack of funding.

Thanks to a federal grant, DNA swabbing is moving forward.

The $740,000 grant, provided to the OSBI by the National Institute of Justice, paid for upgraded equipment, personnel, training of local law enforcement and swab kits. The bureau will need $500,000 annually from the state to continue processing the samples after the grant runs out at the end of 2019, OSBI Criminalistics Division Director Andrea Fielding said.

About 600 samples have already been collected. They will be uploaded to the FBI’s system for matching DNA, called the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), and entered into the National DNA Index System (NDIS).

Excitement and outrage over the law appear to have faded, but the beginning of DNA collection could reignite debate.

“Wait. What?” said Allie Shinn, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, when told that jails were collecting DNA from arrestees.

The ACLU has called the swabbing of arrestees before conviction a violation of privacy rights and due process, an argument it also made when the Legislature approved the law.

Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that produces in-depth and investigative content on policy issues facing the state. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to oklahomawatch.org.