Rape kit backlog still an issue in Georgia as labs work hard to keep up

GBI says rape kit processing can take more than a year
A backlog of unprocessed rape kits continues to be an issue in Georgia.
A backlog of unprocessed rape kits continues to be an issue in Georgia.(WTOC)
Updated: May. 19, 2021 at 10:56 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A backlog of unprocessed rape kits continues to be an issue in Georgia. WTOC Investigates found some people are waiting over a year for the results of those tests.

In 2016, Georgia passed a law aimed at speeding-up this process. That law required local law enforcement offices and healthcare providers to hand over rape test kits to state forensic scientists within 30 days.

Shortly after that law went into effect, 3,000 untested kits were turned in to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s forensic labs. WTOC found out some of those kits had gone untested for more than 15 years.

It’s something that immediately impacted the state’s 7 forensic labs. This latest WTOC investigation found that while these kits are now being turned-in, state labs are working to keep up with high demand.

GBI Crime Laboratory Director Cleveland Miles says the bureau is doing everything it can but is constantly playing a game of catch-up.

“When those kits came into the laboratory, they really did flood in,” said Miles. Director Miles says that initial backlog of cases is still affecting them today. Right now, the GBI says there’s a backlog of more than 1,300 rape kits (1,303). Miles says the lab’s goal is to process them within 45 days.

But Miles says, right now... it can take them more than a year.

“Right now, it is quite lengthy. Longer than we’d like,” said Miles. Miles says the issue is staffing. He says they don’t have enough forensic scientists to keep-up with demand. They’ve even started outsourcing the kits to private labs. GBI receives roughly 200 new rape kits every month. But Miles says currently, they can only process just-over that number.

“If you think about it, what we’re doing is we’re leveling off,” said Miles. “We’re able to keep the backlog from growing, and only slightly make a dent in it.” GBI has 7 state labs, including its new lab in Chatham County, off Pooler Parkway. GBI employs 21 full-time forensic scientists across those labs. Miles says they’d like to double that number. They’re training half-a-dozen scientists right now. He says the new lab is moving them closer to their goals.

“By having a bigger facility that more than doubles your space and capacity for staff, overall, you have the ability to increase your capacity for testing,” said Miles. Miles says despite monumental challenges, the labs are making progress. In the past 6 months, they’ve chipped-away at the backlog... bringing that large number down by 450 kits. He says his team understands how important their job is, and that’s why they’re working to improve their productivity.

“We know that these kits can provide some closure to some of these cases,” said Miles. “We have a ways to go.”

Miles says state and federal tax dollars allowed them to take-on the huge influx of rape kits. He says more funding is always helpful, but that the main issue right now is a lack of forensic scientists. Miles says training for a new forensic scientist takes between 18-24 months.

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