Everybody into the Pool

Posted by Jamie D. Brooks September 10, 2007
Biopolitical Times
Lord Justice Sedley
It’s been confirmed: Collecting arrestees’ DNA – as opposed to those convicted of serious violent crimes – exacerbates the racism inherent in criminal justice systems. And how should we combat this? “Collect the DNA of everyone in the U.K.,” says Lord Justice Sedley, one of England’s most experienced appeal court judges.  That’s right, everybody into the pool.

Turns out that the UK’s move to collect DNA from all arrestees has created a database containing the DNA of almost 40% of black men, compared to 13% of Asian men and 9% of white men according to the Home Office Statistics and Census Data. Racial justice and criminal justice advocates predicted just such an outcome.  Lord Sedley now says the current database’s makeup “is indefensible and biased against ethnic minorities, and it would be fairer to include everyone, guilty or innocent.” Interestingly enough, he’s gotten support from Keith Jarret, president of the UK Black Police Association.

Unfortunately, the racial biases of the UK’s criminal justice system – who’s defined as criminal, the way that justice seeks to remedy crimes, etc. – are pretty much the same as those here in the United States.  Wouldn’t expanding the police database only exacerbate these deficiencies, leaving intact the racism in criminal justice and violating all citizens’ civil liberties?

At this point you may be thinking, “thank goodness for the Boston Tea Party and Tom Paine.” Think again.  Not only would all UK citizens be placed in the database, so too would all visitors to the UK. You can always decide that trading your DNA for fish and chips and a taste of the King’s English isn’t worthwhile. But when it comes to the use of DNA in criminal justice, the US seems to operate as if it’s still a British colony. The UK launched its national DNA database in 1995 and the US followed in 1998. The UK had begun collecting the DNA of arrested individuals by 2003; since then, six US states have followed suit, with 20 others proposing similar legislation this year.  

HT to Troy Duster for the title of this post.