MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — Tennessee is outsourcing hundreds of untested DNA rape kits to a lab in Florida for testing as state investigators try to reduce turnaround times for the evidence.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Monday that it had flown 550 kits to DNA Labs International, based in Deerfield Beach, Florida after securing a $1.5 million federal grant.
Of those, 250 were from the Jackson Crime Laboratory, which processes cases from Memphis, Shelby County, and elsewhere in West Tennessee.
If more grant funding become available before the end of 2023, the TBI said it plans to submit up to 1,000 kits for private analysis, at a rate of $2,155 per kit.
“This outsourcing project helps us take an immediate step, as we continue to discuss longer-term fixes,” TBI Director David Rausch said. “We’re hopeful the General Assembly will approve budget enhancements called for in Governor Lee’s plan, which we believe addresses key staffing and resource needs to better position the Bureau for a bright future.”
TBI said recently that about 2,400 pieces of evidence were sent last year just to the lab in Jackson. As of December 2022 on average, it took scientists more than 48 weeks to process forensic biology for sexual offenses at the Jackson lab.
Experts say that is a very long amount of time to process evidence, and the agency agreed the backlog was concerning. Gov. Bill Lee recently signed off on 25 new forensic positions to divide among the three state labs.
Meanwhile, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy is pushing the state to move its West Tennessee lab back to Memphis, the region’s largest population center, instead of Jackson. A state lawmaker is pushing a bill to mandate that testing be done in 30 days.
The backlog of Memphis cases has dragged on for years and came to the forefront after the murder of jogger Eliza Fletcher last year.