Jim Cockrell, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Public Safety, speaks in Wasilla on May 3, 2022. A new report signed by Cockrell shows the state's backlog of untested sexual assault evidence kits has declined dramatically. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska’s backlog of untested sexual assault examination kits has all but disappeared after a five-year, multimillion-dollar effort, according to a report that will be formally presented to the Alaska Legislature on Tuesday.
The kits, colloquially known as “rape kits,” are used to collect physical evidence after a sexual assault.
Figures published by the Alaska Department of Public Safety and dated Nov. 1 show only 75 untested kits, all at the state crime lab.
In 2017, a statewide survey found almost 3,500 untested kits across the state, many held by local police departments.
That backlog, similar to ones present in states across the country, sparked legislation from Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, that requires an annual report on how many kits remain untested.
The state also spent millions of dollars to reduce the backlog by consolidating the untested kits at the state’s crime lab and expanding the lab’s capacity.
That effort worked, the new report says. In 2020, it took an average of 246 days for a kit to be tested. Now, the average delay is 70 days.
The number of kits determined to be ineligible for testing is also down. In the 2021 report, the Department of Public Safety reported that 136 kits were ineligible because they were scientifically unviable, didn’t meet eligibility requirements for inclusion in the state’s database, or were collected from a person who reported a sexual assault anonymously.
The number of ineligible kits is down to 93 in the latest report.
The report notes that the Department of Public Safety is creating a custom tracking database that will allow survivors of sexual assault and assistance organizations to track the status and location of kits.
The department noted that when the project is completed, the state will have completed all six steps recommended by the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization devoted to implementing best practices nationwide in order to eliminate a chronic backlog of untested kits.
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