For the second time in three years, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice has founds serious shortcomings in the way the National Institute of Justice and the Office of Justice Programs administer federal grants to state forensic labs. On Wednesday, January 23, Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld will testify before a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee at a hearing questioning whether the Justice Department has effectively administered the programs – known as Coverdell Grants. The Innocence Project has raised serious concerns about the way allegations of forensic misconduct are handled under the grant program.
The Justice for All Act of 2004 calls for states receiving federal money for forensic testing to have an independent entity in place to investigate allegations of misconduct. A 2005 report from the DOJ Inspector General found that OJP was not enforcing the oversight provision. A new report, released today, finds that oversight is still lacking. Inspectors contacted over 200 oversight agencies certified by OJP to conduct independent investigations, and found that a third of them were incapable of conducting investigations.
From the report:
For example, one entity named by a certifying official told us that it conducted financial audits and had no authority to conduct investigations of negligence or misconduct in forensic laboratory work. An official from another entity told us that his entity did not have the capabilities and resources to conduct investigations involving DNA analysis and would have to request funds from the state legislature to contract for DNA expertise if it received such an allegation. More than half of all entity officials told us that they had not been previously informed that their entities had been certified to conduct independent external investigations as required by the Coverdell Program.
Read the Innocence Blog next Wednesday for a dispatch from Washington by Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom.