Collecting DNA from Innocent Children to Prevent Crime

Collecting DNA from Innocent Children to Prevent Crime

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted March 17, 2008 in DNA and the Law, Polls About DNA

If it were up to Gary Pugh, director of forensic sciences at Scotland Yard and the new DNA spokesman* for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), my DNA would have been put in a national database from the time I started school. Yes, I admit I was a little bully and perhaps that would have identified me as a future offender although I don’t think I’m quite bad enough to lock up. Yet….


Pugh claims that criminology studies show children as young as five will behave in ways which predict their potential to commit crime in the future. These “problem children” should have their DNA collected for crime prevention.

If we have a primary means of identifying people before they offend, then in the long-term the benefits of targeting younger people are extremely large. You could argue the younger the better. Criminologists say some people will grow out of crime; others won’t. We have to find who are possibly going to be the biggest threat to society.

By committing children’s DNA to the national database, Pugh asserts that society will save money and suffer less crime. It’s estimated that in the UK, 1.5 million samples of DNA from 10 to 18-year-olds will be in the national DNA database by March 2009. Similar collection procedures apply to juveniles as well as to adults who can be asked to give a DNA sample upon arrest even if they are not charged or convicted.

A recent report from the think-tank Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) called for children to be targeted between the ages of five and 12 with cognitive behavioural therapy, parenting programmes and intensive support. Prevention should start young, it said, because prolific offenders typically began offending between the ages of 10 and 13.

As a parent, I have observed that certain children do seem to exhibit more “problem” behavior than others but it is very difficult to tell whether that is due to evil temperament that won’t change or if it’s the result of family environment or who knows what other mysterious factors that mold our behavior. No criminology assessment can be 100% predictive and there is no way I would allow my child’s DNA to be systematically collected for a DNA database unless every single citizen is mandated by law to give theirs too.

Pugh suggests that we stop thinking of DNA so emotionally.

Fingerprints, somehow, are far less contentious. We have children giving their fingerprints when they are borrowing books from a library.

I did not know libraries fingerprint their users but guess what? I think it’s nuts too!

Putting aside that no sane adult would want their DNA in a national database without good reason, what about our children? What kind of world are we living in when innocent children are viewed not in terms of their positive potential but in terms of their criminal potential?!

What do you think about collecting DNA from innocent children? Take the poll after the break.

*DNA spokesman? Sounds like a newly created job title. If you’re looking for a DNA spokesperson, email me! I’m available.




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Comment by Lyn

Scariest article I’ve seen in a while about DNA and ethics.

How did the subjects of the UK become so submissive to law enforcement? They already have an island full of TV cameras. Now their authorities want DNA from children. I wish those people would draw a line somewhere while there’s still time.

Don’t give your fingerprints nor your DNA.

Thanks for stopping by, Lyn. The UK National DNA Database is growing so quickly and public opinion seems unable to sway law enforcement from swinging their net ever wider. It’s hard also to advise people not to give up their fingerprints or DNA when these are considered “abandoned” and can be collected without consent.

Comment by Barry Starr Subscribed to comments via email

No wonder people are so scared of science. The next logical step would be to look at the DNA collected for reasons why problem children are problem and then test everyone so we can know beforehand who is going to be troublesome. Sort of like the extra XYY stuff from a few years ago.

Barry, You got that right. I don’t know if any laws exist that would prevent the use of DNA for purposes other than crime prevention although I suppose clever law enforcement officials could justify anything.

Comment by Kaila Colbin Subscribed to comments via email

Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Hsien. People respond to others’ expectations; treat them as stupid and they’re likely to ignore their studies. Treat them as criminals and they’re likely to commit a crime. It’s a rare few who are strong enough and brave enough to believe of themselves what others don’t believe of them. If we encourage children to believe that they’re destined to become criminals, we will surely create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Kaila, So true. I’ve been reading Daniel Goleman’s Social Intelligence and he talks about how our brains can be easily primed to respond in positive or negative ways. Clearly, being labeled as a potential future offender is a negative way to start down the path towards adulthood!


[...] Law Sara Gaines at Guardian’s Joe Public blog has outed me as a bully in a discussion about children’s DNA in the UK national database. There’s also more from Evan Maloney at the Splat! Blog who coins the word [...]

Comment by NA Subscribed to comments via email

There is a student at the University of Minnesota that is getting a degree something in the area of law and genetics. I will contact her and see what she thinks about this topic.


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