Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences Honored with National Award for Excellence in Victim Service


Aug 04, 2011, 10:00 ET from H-E-A-R-T, Inc.

ORANGE BEACH, Ala., Aug. 4, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Debbie Smith, an outspoken rape survivor and advocate for the use of forensic DNA in investigations, presented the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences with a national award for their outstanding work on reducing DNA backlogs and providing victims of crime in Alabama with excellent service in hopes of bringing resolution to their cases.

Mrs. Smith announced, "I am very proud to be presenting the first annual H-E-A-R-T Paul Ferrara Achievement Award to such a deserving agency. The progress that ADFS has made in reducing its DNA backlog and improving its overall DNA program will have a lasting, meaningful impact both on individual victims as well as on general public safety for the residents of Alabama."

H-E-A-R-T's Paul Ferrara Achievement Award is named in honor of Dr. Paul Ferrara, who oversaw the Virginia crime laboratory system. Under Dr. Ferrara's pioneering leadership, Virginia became the first state to offer forensic DNA analysis to law enforcement, and was the first to create a DNA database to be used to identify perpetrators in unsolved crimes. It was this database that was used to finally identify the attacker who entered Debbie's home in 1989 and sexually assaulted her while her husband, and off-duty police officer, was asleep upstairs.

Through partnerships with the federal government, and specifically with the help and support of Reps. Bonner and Bachus, along with Sens. Shelby and Sessions, ADFS has turned its DNA section into a national leader and a world-class program. ADFS has put its federal grant opportunities to work, and in turn has demonstrated how DNA can bring closure to victims and their families, prevent additional crimes, and exonerate the truly innocent. The federal funding has been especially important in light of recent state budget reductions ADFS has shared.

Debbie Smith lobbied Congress to enact the Justice For All Act of 2004, authorizing federal grants to assist crime laboratories with DNA backlogs. Title II of the bill was named the Debbie Smith Act in honor of her efforts. Since 2004, the State of Alabama has received more than $6 million in grants from this funding.

Program Director for Lighthouse Rape Crisis Center, Jaana Meeks, noted that Alabama's reduction in DNA backlog provides many victims with an important step forward in their healing process when attackers are finally named. To take full advantage of this exceptional local resource, Lighthouse is organizing a county-wide effort to manage an effective Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), which provides victims of sexual assault with a coordinated, professional response. "We are very fortunate to have such a valuable resource and partner in ADFS, and as rape victim service providers we look toward improving our own level of care and response to victims of sex assaults."

About H-E-A-R-T, Inc. H-E-A-R-T (Hope Exists After Rape Trauma) is a non-profit organization founded by Debbie Smith. Its mission is to provide hope for victims of sexual assault through the provision of essential and therapeutic support, by affecting positive change in laws influencing their lives, and by educating both the public and professionals commissioned to serve victims.