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Rules Will Make It Easier to Force Inmates to Provide DNA

Law enforcement: Move comes as many prisoners refuse to give samples voluntarily for databank used to solve crimes.

April 13, 2002|BETTINA BOXALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Criticized for not being sufficiently diligent in obtaining the DNA of state prison inmates, the Department of Corrections says it will rewrite regulations to allow guards to more easily use force when prisoners refuse to give samples.

The move comes as the Legislature considers a bill that would drop a Corrections Department requirement that guards obtain a court order before using reasonable force in collecting genetic samples for the state's DNA databank.

In a letter earlier this month to the bill's sponsor, Director Edward Alameida Jr. said the Corrections Department had concluded that existing law allows "it to take these samples involuntarily, and that the growing number of inmates refusing to be sampled compels our decision to move forward."

The department estimates there are roughly 900 prisoners in the state system who have refused to give blood and saliva samples for the databank, used to search for suspects in unsolved crimes.

Although California was one of the first states to create such a databank, it has trailed behind national leaders in collecting inmate samples and comparing them to genetic evidence from unsolved crimes. An infusion of cash and manpower in recent years has pushed the program forward, but complaints remain that the state is far short of exploiting the databank's potential for solving old crimes.

In outlining the department's plans to rewrite its use-of-force rules, Alameida said he believes the revision will make the proposed legislation unnecessary. Once prisoners know force can be used, most will cooperate, he said.

The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga), said he has no intention of dropping the measure.

"I think the letter is nothing but, 'OK, there's an issue out there and this is an election year and we may need to get out in front of it,'" he said.

Moreover, Brulte said the Corrections Department has indicated the new rules will not be in place until the beginning of next year.

The bill, if passed soon and signed into law, could speed up that schedule by months, he said.

The use-of-force proposal is now before the Senate Public Safety Committee, where Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) has raised questions about it.

Burton and Brulte say they believe those differences can be worked out.

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