U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Quantifying the Specific Deterrent Effects of DNA Databases

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2010
99 pages
This study quantified the specific deterrent effects of DNA databases by examining whether offenders' knowledge that their DNA profile had been entered into a database deterred them from offending in the future.
The study found evidence that offenders' knowledge that their DNA was entered into a database for future reference significantly deterred them from committing robberies and burglaries. Regarding the deterrent effects for other categories of crime, however, there was less persuasive evidence that knowledge that one's DNA is in a database restrained offenders from reoffending. Having such a database, however, did in fact increase the risk for the detection of recidivism. The study concludes that although DNA databases do not provide a powerful deterrent effect across the board for all offenses, DNA databases clearly increase the risk for detecting recidivism, in that those offenders who were not deterred from reoffending were more likely to be rearrested. These findings clearly favor the future expansion of the range of crimes and categories of offenders covered by DNA databases. The study examined the reoffending patterns of a large cohort of offenders released from custody under the Florida Department of Corrections between 1996 and 2004. Since the unfolding of a criminal career can most closely be associated with an individual's choices, any positive changes that DNA databases bring to these unfolding careers is identified as the specific deterrent effect. Should recidivism continue or increase, along with increased detection of reoffending through DNA evidence, this suggests that the deterrent effect has not increased with the existence of a DNA database, but it has increased the risk for being detected for new crimes that lead to rearrest. 8 figures, 23 tables, and 57 references

Date Published: March 1, 2010