Pretoria - More than 160 000 prisoners in South Africa will soon have their DNA samples collected and stored indefinitely in a database as part of the South African Police Service’s efforts to reduce crime.
Head of forensic services Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane said this would be done through a legion of 5 000 detectives who will complete their training by the end of next month, and many more being skilled over the next few years.
Speaking at the 3rd forensic service conference at the CSIR on Wednesday, Phahlane said the DNA samples would be collected through a simple, non-invasive test known as the buccal swab.
It involves the collection of buccal cells from the inside of the cheek, and takes 30 seconds.
Vanessa Lynch, founder of DNA-Projects and one of the 10 members sitting on the board who helped craft the Act, said the process would be done against the backdrop of Act No 37 of 2013: Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Act which was passed in January.
However, this will only apply to individuals arrested or convicted of a schedule eight offence.
This includes such crimes as murder, culpable homicide, robbery, rape, public violence, child stealing and treason, among others.
The board is made up of five civilians, one former judge, and four members from the departments of Justice, Health and Correctional Services.
This is done to prevent compromising ethics and to ensure that there is accountability when enforcing the Act. Lynch said the act would allow for a broader database to be created from DNA samples collected from prisoners, suspects, and awaiting triallists.
“A bigger database means it will be easier to match DNA samples collected from crime scenes against the samples that have already been collected and storedy,” Lynch said.
Due to the high number of repeat offenders, this would mean that a criminal DNA database would have a significant amount of repeat offenders on the DNA file and would make it easier to trace offenders.
Section head of forensic database management Brigadier Joe Smith said the legislation also ensures the conception of a database which functions more than just a tool for gathering accusatory evidence, but also to help exonerate falsely accused suspects.
“This act and approach will help to exonerate innocent people and eliminate suspects and prevent wrongful convictions or other miscarriages of justice,” he said.