Ala. Forensic Sciences Dept. faces cuts

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Alabama Forensic Sciences Department is again facing deep budget cuts. The funding crisis in the state's general fund budget is being felt everywhere, in particular by law enforcement agencies and district attorney's offices working to solving cases.

State forensic scientists in the Montgomery lab are working in overdrive.

"We are moving as fast as possible. Our backlogs are in direct portion to general fund appropriation," State Forensic Sciences Director Michael Sparks said.

Sparks saYS the Drug Analysis Department has been hit the hardest. He says statewide there are 16,000 unworked drug cases.

"Our backlog affects the entire criminal justice system," Sparks said.

The Montgomery lab has 1700 of those unworked drug cases...delays in critical lab work results needed to investigate crimes.

"With their backlog, those reports are going to take longer for us to receive which means our cases won't be concluded until we get the results," Department of Public Safety Sergeant Steve Jarrett said.

The Montgomery lab director says they're still working cases from July and haven't even started cases that go to trial in January.

"We absorb those cuts through personnel and through services and that's what we had to do," Sparks said.

He says it started in 2009, when budget cuts forced 27 staffers statewide out the door, mostly forensic scientists. Plus, all labs statewide are operating on $5 million dollars less a year. Three offices were forced to close in July.

Now Sparks has to consider the same thing happening again because the cuts may get worse. As much as a $400 million dollar cut is expected for next year's general fund budget.

"If we could be protected at that level, at $9.5 million, I won't have to cut anybody else," Sparks said.

"It's regrettable that such a vital agency could continue to see budget cuts which, in turn, continue to delay the judicial process and postpone justice for victims of crime and their families," District Attorney Randall Houston who represents Elmore, Autauga and Chilton counties said.

The legislative session starts in January and DFS along with other agencies will have to wait and see how their budgets shape up.

Sparks says one possible solution might be to increase some of the fees already charged, including one placed on people charged with driving under the influence. But so far he says there's been no enthusiasm in the legislature to raise fees.

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