Panama has taken a significant step in enhancing its criminal justice system by launching in August 2023 a pioneering nationwide retroactive DNA sample collection campaign within its prison system. This collaborative effort involves the country's Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, the National Penitentiary System, and the Ministry of Government.
The initiative aims to collect DNA samples from the entire population of roughly 20,000 offenders in Panama's prison system, as allowed by current law. The current campaign so far has already gathered around 2,000 samples. This proactive approach to collecting DNA from convicted offenders is a groundbreaking move for Panama and Central America.
Collecting DNA samples from individuals already convicted allows authorities to link offenders to past crimes, potentially solving cold cases and pending criminal investigations. This also helps populate the national DNA database and bring closure to victims and their families.
This initiative places it at the forefront of DNA collection practices in Latin America. The country is setting an example for other nations in the region and potentially the world by implementing retroactive criminal DNA collection. This approach also has the potential to serve as a model for countries seeking to strengthen their criminal justice systems through advanced forensic techniques.
The country's success in this initiative is not only attributed to its determination to solve crime but also to having the requisite legal authority to carry out retroactive DNA collection. The national DNA database law provides authorities the power to collect with or without consent. However, the country is opting to start with asking for informed consent in the initial collection process, respecting individuals' rights and privacy. For those who decline to donate in the first instance, Panama will then seek judicial authorization, ensuring compliance with legal procedures.
Panama's nationwide retroactive DNA collection campaign represents a significant leap forward in forensic capabilities and criminal justice efficiency. By embracing this innovative approach, Panama is not only solving current crimes but also paving the way for the resolution of cold cases and contributing to the advancement of forensic practices in the region and beyond.