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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
Fisher also cautioned that backlog data are not entirely reliable, saying that one of the reasons for the lack of data is that laboratories count back-logs, case submissions, tests, output, and outcomes differently. Additionally, many laboratories lack automated information management systems to “capture the very data that might support their case for more assistance.”20 Finally, it is difficult to track cases for which forensic work has moved all the way through the criminal justice system: Police, prosecutors, and forensic laboratories use different tracking systems.
NIJ’S COVERDELL FORENSIC SCIENCEIMPROVEMENT GRANT PROGRAM
Through the Paul Coverdell National Forensic Science Improvement Act (P.L. 106-561), the Justice Department operates the Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grants Program (the Coverdell program), which awards grants to states and units of local government to help improve the quality and timeliness of forensic science and medical examiner services.21 The program provides funding for expenses related to facilities, personnel, equipment, computerization, supplies, accreditation, certification, and education and training. In 2004, the Justice for All Act (P.L. 108-405) expanded the Coverdell program, with the aim of reducing the backlog.
A state or unit of local government that receives a Coverdell grant must use the grant for one or more of three purposes:
To carry out all or a substantial part of a program intended to improve the quality and timeliness of forensic science or medical examiner services in the state, including those services provided by laboratories operated by the state and those operated by units of local government within the state.
To eliminate a backlog in the analysis of forensic science evidence, including, among other things, a backlog with respect to firearms examination, latent prints, toxicology, controlled substances, forensic pathology, questioned documents, and trace evidence.
To train, assist, and employ forensic laboratory personnel as needed to eliminate such a backlog.22
P.L. 106-561 (December 21, 2000). An Act to improve the quality, timeliness, and credibility of forensic science services for criminal justice purposes and for other purposes. Cited as the Paul Coverdell National Forensic Sciences Improvement Act.