Tulsa Jail officials said on Tuesday they were set to discuss the possibility of collecting DNA from some arrestees as they enter the facility, an action that would put into effect a law passed more than two years ago.
However, it’s unclear how the jail would pay for the DNA collection and testing, Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Casey Roebuck said, and jail officials are unsure if they will get a piece of a recent grant award through the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
Roebuck told The Frontier on Tuesday the sheriff’s office, which runs the Tulsa Jail, was interested in the prospect of collecting DNA from inmates entering the jail on felony charges (and some misdemeanors) and would discuss the topic on Wednesday at TCSO’s staff meeting.
“It’s something we’re taking a closer look at to see if there’s a solution to moving forward,” she said. “The problem is we’ve not received any funding, so we’re going to take a look at how to acquire funding. There’s still a lot of questions to be answered.”
Gov. Mary Fallin signed the bill, which was authored by Lee Denney, R-Cushing, in 2016. But it wasn’t until the Oklahoma County Jail began quietly collecting DNA samples earlier this year that the process was put into practice. Although the bill was widely supported by the state Legislature, it was not funded and thus was not put into practice until a large grant was awarded to the OSBI.
Oklahoma Watch, which first reported the Oklahoma County Jail’s DNA collection on Monday, said that jail had cheek swabbed “hundreds” of inmates.
The next step would be to upload genetic profiles of the inmates to an FBI database, in theory allowing authorities to connect recent arrestees to other unsolved crimes.
Oklahoma Watch said the OSBI confirmed that 12 agencies have been trained so far on collecting inmate DNA, and Roebuck told The Frontier the Tulsa Jail, the state’s second-largest county jail, would go through that training on Wednesday.
When the bill was first proposed, it was met with opposition by groups like the ACLU who said collecting DNA from arrestees who had not been convicted of a crime constituted a civil rights violation.
Allie Shinn, deputy director of the ACLU, told Oklahoma Watch the agency was “looking at all options” to stop the DNA collecting.
It’s unclear if that effort would be met with any success. More than half the states in the nation do some form of DNA collection from non-convicted inmates, and attempts to stop the process in other states have mostly been unsuccessful.
According to the Oklahoma law, if charges are dropped against an inmate who has been swabbed (or the inmate is later acquitted,) the sample is supposed to be destroyed. The person can request the OSBI expunge their DNA profile but must show proof they were not convicted.
The law also states that “any person convicted of any misdemeanor or felony offense” must pay a $150 fee “for each offense.” The funds collected via that fee are given to either the OSBI, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner or the “municipality or county” where the test was conducted.