Houston reaches significant milestone in addressing untested rape kit backlog

“I know this milestone is of special importance to the rape survivors and their families and friends because it means their cases are receiving the attention they should have years ago. If there is a chance of prosecution in a case that has languished or new cases that are uncovered, that prosecution will happen."  

-Houston Mayor Parker on having cleared the backlog in Houston

Last week, Houston officials announced that testing has been completed on 6,663 previously untested rape kits, some dating as far back as the 1980s. Testing has yielded more than 2,305 profiles entered into CODIS, the national DNA databank. Of those, more than a third—850 profiles—have matched to existing profiles of known offenders and unknown suspects collected from other crimes. 

The work to end the backlog of untested rape kits in Houston began in 2011, when legislation was passed in Texas mandating a statewide audit and testing of all rape kits in police storage facilities. The same year, Houston was given an action-research grant by the National Institute of Justice to study the causes of the backlog and develop and implement a plan for testing. 

In 2013, Houston’s Mayor Annise Parker announced that a plan had been made and approved by the City Council to end the backlog within 14 months. The plan involved sending out the kits to be tested by two different private labs and it was estimated that $4.4 million was needed. Ultimately, $2.2 million of the funding would come from federal grants and the other $2.2 million would come from the city’s budget. 

According to District Attorney Devon Anderson, suspects from 29 different cases have been charged and seven cases have been closed, either in a sentence or dismissal. When asked about the remaining cases, District Attorney Anderson stated, “I’m hoping and I’m pretty sure we’re going to get more charges. Just the CODIS hit is the beginning of the process." 

In northern Texas, the city of Amarillo has also begun to address its backlog of over 700 kits, some dating back to the 1990s.  Amarillo’s untested kits were discovered as a result of the statewide audit required under law and its backlog represents the fifth largest in Texas of reporting jurisdictions. 

Although the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) allocated $9.2M to set up contracts with three private labs that would test kits across the state, the state has struggled with both enforcing the audit—over six months after the April 2012 deadline, only 130 jurisdictions of the state’s 2,647 complied with it—and with finding the resources to test the kits that have been uncovered. When Amarillo Police Chief Robert Taylor began to send kits in 2011, DPS told them that the private labs “lacked the space and resources to process the kits” at that time. In early January this year, DPS notified the Amarillo Police Department that private labs had the resources to start accepting and testing the kits. As of this month, Amarillo has sent 50 rape kits for testing.

"It is a concern if justice isn't being met, and that's really what we're all looking for, that justice is done, and we have to do whatever we can in our power to make sure that it happens," said Lilia Escajeda, an Amarillo City Council Member. 

- By Sophia Schrager and Vivian Long, March 5, 2015

ENDTHEBACKLOG is a program of the Joyful Heart Foundation to shine a light on the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the United States. Our goal is to end this injustice by conducting groundbreaking research identifying the extent of the nation’s backlog and best practices for eliminating it, expanding the national dialogue on rape kit testing through increased public awareness, engaging communities and government agencies and officials and advocating for comprehensive rape kit reform legislation and policies at the local, state and federal levels. We urge you to learn more about the backlog, where it exists and why it matters. We invite you to take action and support efforts to test rape kits. Help us send the message that we must take rape seriously.

keep up with backlog news

END THE BACKLOG is a JOYFUL HEART FOUNDATION initiative and a proud supporter of