Schimel: Last of backlogged rape kits submitted for testing

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

AG Brad Schimel has announced the last of the backlogged rape kits have been submitted to outside labs for testing.

Schimel previously projected the state would test the remaining kits by the end of the year and said during a news conference Tuesday that timeline remained on track.

“Today’s milestone is significant,” Schimel told reporters at the Dane County Rape Crisis Center. “This work is about much more than just testing kits. It’s about bringing justice that’s overdue to survivors. It’s about preventing future crimes, and it’s about changing the culture surrounding the response to sexual assault.”

But Dem AG opponent Josh Kaul — who’s been critical of Schimel’s progress on reducing the backlog — knocked the Republican in a statement.

“Despite today’s announcement, testing still hasn’t been completed on more than half of the kits in the rape-kit backlog that need to be tested,” he said. “Brad Schimel’s failure to prioritize the elimination of the backlog has meant that justice has been delayed for survivors and that dangerous criminals have remained on the streets longer than they should have.”

The backlog — which initially totaled 6,833 when Schimel first took office in 2015 — was slowly winnowed down as the state Department of Justice designated 4,155 for testing. Of those, 1,884 have already been tested while 2,271 have been sent to external labs to await analysis.

The kits went untested after local law enforcement and hospitals stored the evidence over the years, rather than forwarding it to the DOJ, according to an agency statement.

Schimel rebuffed Dem criticism over the backlog and the timing of the announcement less than six months ahead of his re-election bid. He pointed to constraints the agency faced in finding external labs to contract with the state and initial limits on the number of kits that could be tested per month. He also noted the process the agency underwent gathering related police reports and other evidence tied to the kits.

The Department of Justice first began working with one external lab in November 2016 to test the kits. After receiving grants from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance, DOJ then started contracting with two other labs in January. The first, in Utah, has contracted to test 1,000 kits by the end of 2018, while the second, in West Virginia, will test 300 kits this year, per a previous DOJ statement.

The lab DOJ began working with in 2016 is now contracted for 3,000 kits and is expected to complete that by the end of this year, an agency spokeswoman said.

Asked if any state funding would need to be spent to complete the testing, Schimel said he didn’t expect so. The testing has been covered by more than $4 million in existing grant funding.

Hear the audio:
https://soundcloud.com/wispolitics/180529schimel/s-i5RiC

See more on the testing status of the kits:
https://wisaki.doj.wi.gov/numbers/data-results

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