Police take DNA from record number of teenagers

In May this year, the Howard League for Penal Reform released statistics showing that police services across the United Kingdom took almost 70,000 DNA samples from young people between the ages of 10 and 17. The League’s statistics also showed that the police had taken DNA samples from seven-year-old, five-year-old and two-year-old children. Under English law, children younger than 10 cannot be held responsible from criminal acts.

The Howard League for Penal Reform is a charity that campaigns for improvements to conditions in prisons and more openness and understanding in the way that the police and the courts treat individuals suspected of crimes. 

DNA is special protein contained in many of the cells that make up the human body. A person’s DNA is unique and samples of DNA can be linked to individual people by testing samples of their body tissues- their skin and hair, the flesh inside their mouths- a body fluids like blood. 

Police investigators often try to gather hairs and other biological materials from a crime scene, so that they can test it against records of the DNA profiles of people who they have previously arrested. Police services in the UK and in many other states routinely take samples of DNA when they arrest an individual suspected of carrying out a criminal act.

Sometimes the police are required to destroy DNA samples taken from people who have not been prosecuted or who have been shown not to be guilty of the crime they were arrested for by a formal trial. Sometimes police services are allowed to keep DNA samples, whether or not someone was prosecuted for a crime, provided the crime they were accused of was very serious.

DNA matching is not a flawless process. Sometimes, the police or the scientists they work with make mistakes and samples of cells from crime scenes are linked to a person who does not have matching DNA. This can lead to people being punished for crimes that they have not committed.  Storing and testing DNA can also take a lot of time and resources.

Should more be done to stop the police from taking unnecessary DNA samples? How easy do you think it would be for someone arrested for a crime they did not commit to get details of their DNA removed from a police database? Crimes committed by very young children can be very minor – should the police be allowed to take DNA samples in these circumstances?

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The original report from the Howard League for Penal Reform

The BBC's coverage of the Howard League report

The Guardian's coverage fo the Howard League report

The Daily Mail's coverage of the Howard League report

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