Dollars coming for untested rape kits as officials express additional needs to resolve opioid addiction before legislative panel

06/03/2016 05:56 PM

FRANKFORT — Kentucky State Police are making headway on resolving a backlog of more than 3,000 untested rape kits under a contract awarded last month, the head of KSP’s central forensic lab told a legislative panel Friday.

Laura Sudkamp, manager of the forensic lab, told the Interim Joint Judiciary Committee that funding received in the upcoming biennial budget will help state police prevent a repeat of the sizable backlog of untested DNA kits in the future, an issue faced by law enforcement agencies across the U.S.

Lawmakers directed $4.5 million from a lawsuit involving the makers of the antipsychotic drug Risperdal to KSP specifically to address the backlog in the two-year budget, and state police received nearly $2 million from the New York County District Attorney’s Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Elimination Grant Program to contract with Utah-based Sorensen Forensics to test the current backlog on a first come, first served basis.

The first batch of 299 untested sexual assault kits have been sent to Sorensen for processing within 60 days, Sudkamp said.

Part of the DANY grant required a committee to develop policies for the future handling of cases involving sexual assault kits, and Sudkamp said an existing panel was given that task.

“We kind of gave the directive for Senate Bill 63 to have the (Sexual Assault Response Team Advisory Committee) work on that,” she said.

Sudkamp said the extra dollars from the state will help KSP hire 10 additional forensic scientists to analyze DNA kits, and the agency plans to divide that branch into three sections, one for initial screening, another for crimes against people and a third for property crimes.

About $1.1 million in new equipment has been ordered for forensic analysts, she said.

Others who testified before the judiciary panel at the Kentucky State Police Academy touched on the state’s opioid addiction problem and how additional resources could help in their efforts at combating a persistent heroin issue.

Mark Bolton, director of the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections, said his agency acts as the region’s largest detox facility, with as many as 120 inmates treated for drug withdrawal at a time.

Most of those are heroin addicts, and Bolton said the jail spends roughly $10 million in treatment and health costs associated with drugs in recent years.

Newly hired KSP Commissioner Rick Sanders, asked about the opiate antidote Narcan, said his troopers don’t carry the drug because of budget constraints, but they should.

Jefferson District Judge Stephanie Burke told lawmakers that more dollars are needed to help users get treatment and transition from drug courts and halfway houses into stable jobs. In some instances, she says court workers will scrape together money from their own pockets to help pay for clothes and food for some recovering addicts who leave such treatment programs.

“We can’t ethically and legally pay for it ourselves,” Burke said. “We have people in our drug court offices who are on our staffs who make a pittance for their salaries, and they literally throw money in to buy people clothes, to give them money for food, and then they try to hide that they’ve done that because they’d get in trouble if that was known, and that shouldn’t be the way this is working.”

The upcoming biennial spending plan will take effect July 1, but chairmen of the judiciary committees acknowledge that certain budget issues raised on Friday will need to be addressed when the General Assembly reconvenes for its next budget-writing session in 2018.

For Rep. Darry Owens, he’d like to see the next spending proposal offer more addiction services.

“You’ve got people who want help that can’t get it because there’s not a bed, so we’re going to have to see what we can do about that,” said Owens, a Louisville Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, added that he would like to see more money to boost salaries for KSP lab personnel.

“We need them to be increased because we are losing staff to other states, to the private sector,” said Westerfield, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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