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‘Let’s stop innocent people from being criminalised’

CAMPAIGN: Matilda MacAttram welcomes the new law, but says there is still work to be done

THE PASSING of the Protection of Freedoms Act marks a significant victory for the 1.2 million innocent people profiled on the national criminal DNA database (DNAD).

This new law will see them removed from the database. Not only will the DNA of those who have been arrested, but also those who are innocent of any crime be permanently removed from the Police National Computer (PNC) databases. Their biological samples held in forensic science laboratories across the country will be removed as well.

The change in the law will also mean that fingerprint records of those who have not been convicted of a crime will be destroyed.

Innocent

Previous government proposals allowed the police to hold onto innocent people’s DNA for at least six years, which meant anyone arrested was automatically given the same status as that of a convicted criminal, regardless of whether they had committed a crime and been convicted in a court of law or not.

The negative consequences of this were wide ranging. People who were on the database could be turned down for a job or a visa simply because they had been arrested but were never charged.

Of all groups, people from the UK’s African Caribbean communities and mental health service users were among those who were hit hardest by these injustices.

Black Mental Health (BMH) UK’s four-year campaign put the spotlight on how the DNAD had effectively criminalised black Britain.

African Caribbeans make up 2.9% of the national population, but Home Office figures showed that 27% of the entire black population are on the database, compared with just 9% of Asians and 6% of the white population.
Like stop and search, the issue of the DNA database was viewed in many quarters as further evidence of the selective over-policing of people from black communities.

This was borne out by data, which showed that 42% of the entire black male population are on the DNA database and 77% of young men, aged between 18 and 35, are also profiled on this system.

Crisis

Mental health service users were also victims of injustices in the way DNA was taken. Those in crisis who were taken into police custody as a ‘place of safety’ under the Mental Health Act were also swept up by this system.
While the new law requires the deletion of all innocent people’s records, with exception for those charged with serious sexual or violent offences, no deadline has been set for the removal of records from police databases or the destruction of DNA samples.

The enactment of the Protection of Freedom Act will begin in early July 2012. From that date it will be illegal for police to keep the DNA samples or profiles of anyone arrested and not charged with a crime.

However, the adoption of this new law is just half the battle. With no date set for dealing with the backlog of millions of profiles and samples, the same resilience it took to bring about a change in the law will be needed to ensure that this backlog becomes a priority for the police.

Some estimates indicate it could take years to delete all the records they have of innocent people.
But if people write to their MPs, it could make a difference on how long it takes to get their DNA removed.

BMH UK, along with Gene Watch UK and Reclaim Your DNA, is encouraging innocent people to write to their MPs and the police welcoming the Act and asking when their records will be deleted.

In For information on how best to do this please visit www.blackmentalhealth.org.uk or www.genewatch.org or http://reclaimyourdna.org/further-action/

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