November 27, 2003
FBI May Start Collecting Juvenile Offender DNA

A bill currently working thru the US Congress will expand the scope of FBI DNA data collection and storage.

WASHINGTON DNA profiles from hundreds of thousands of juvenile offenders and adults arrested but not convicted of crimes could be added to the FBI's national DNA crime-fighting program under a proposed law moving through Congress.

The article reports that thirty states already collect DNA from juveniles. What accounts for some of the opposition to the spread of this practice as compared to the already universally accepted collection of fingerprints must be the fear that DNA can tell more about the innate characteristics of a person than fingerprints can. But if that fear is justified then what drives the opposition is fear that the truth about human nature will be used to treat people who are innately different in ways that are in response to those innate differences.

There is fear in the minds of many modern liberal thinkers that people will not be considered equal before the law if it is known that they have innate tendencies to behave in ways different from each other. So there is an element of "don't want to know" in the attempts to prevent information from being collected that might at some future point turn out to be useful for automatically identifying differences in innate behavioral tendencies.

Given that juveniles commit assault, murder, rape, armed robbery, and a large assortment of other crimes and that some juveniles do so repeatedly that part of the expansion of DNA collection does not strike me as unreasonable. It is hard to see why juveniles should be treated so differently than adults when they commit crimes every bit as brutal as those committed by adults and when juvenile criminals can pose threats as repeat offenders every bit as great as those posed by adult criminals.

Given that we do not now have the ability to analyse DNA to produce a detailed picture of genetic factors that influence behavior the current drive to collect more DNA samples is being driven by the same purpose for which fingerprint evidence is already collected: it allows the identification of more criminals from evidence found at crime scenes. This provides a few different benefits in terms of protection of the innocent population. First, it increases the rate at which criminals are caught. This removes dangerous people from the streets and also increases the deterrent effect of the law on would-be criminals.

But more accurate identification of criminals does something else that is rarely mentioned: it decreases the rate of investigation and conviction of innocent people. Every time a criminal commits a crime there is some chance that an innocent person will be incorrectly suspected of having committed it. This reduces the rates of false arrests (with all the stigma and costs which are entailed), trials in which innocents are found innocent (which have to be terrible and expensive ordeals for innocents caught up in them), and trials in which innocents are found guilty (even worse). Each crime that is correctly connected to a real perpetrator is a crime that is unlikely to involve a prosecution of an innocent. Also, if the deterrence effect of the law is heightened and more criminals are jailed the result is that fewer crimes will be committed and hence fewer innocents will be incorrectly implicated in something they didn't do.

A reduction in crime rates reduces victimizations both by criminals and by governments. It also reduces the amount of fear and inconvenience visited upon those who live with considerable risk of becoming crime victims. Proposals for measures that will have the effect of reducing crime rates need to be weighed with all of those factors in mind.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 November 27 01:21 PM  Surveillance Society


Comments
TJGREEN said at November 30, 2003 1:56 PM:

As our knowledge grows the ability to destroy each other grows.Our species is twenty per cent schizotypl,and therefore mentally unstable. If we look at our history most of the damage has been done by psychopaths(an inability to feel guilt) We should have a database of all psychopaths who are mainly male.

Randall Parker said at November 30, 2003 2:37 PM:

TJ, The future is going to get very very interesting once DNA tests and brain scans become useful diagnostic tools for proving that particular people feel little or no guilt. How can such people possibly be considered to have been rehabilitated by a jail term?

What position will the majority take on laws regarding jail terms and institutionalization once it becomes possible to use biomedical tests to predict that one convict has a 99% chance of recividism, another has a 90% chance, another has a 60% chance and another has a 30% chance? Will DNA tests and brain scans be considered in sentencing and in parole board hearings?

If it becomes possible to prove that a particular 6 year old will grow up to be a criminal with 99+% certainty what will tbe public demand to be done about it? Will they support the use of drugs to change the brain development of such children in order ot make them less dangerous?

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