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Senator proposes DNA sampling -- of some middle school kids

JUNEAU -- An Alaska state senator suggested in a hearing Tuesday that criminal behavior -- and the need for future DNA testing -- could be predicted as early as middle school.

Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, offered what he called a "completely seat of the pants" observation at a Senate State Affairs Committee meeting during the introduction of a criminal justice reform bill.

"With some degree of confidence, I think that by the time particularly young men, but maybe young men and women, are in middle school, we can already predict the ones we need to get their DNA samples," Huggins told a room that included the state's corrections commissioner, Ron Taylor. "Because they're going to go see Mr. Taylor in a few years. That's unfortunate but it's all too true."

It appeared that he thought DNA samples from the suspect middle school students should be taken so that they can be compared later with samples taken at crime scenes or from crime victims.

Afterwards, Huggins clarified that he was being "facetious" in his reference to DNA testing. But he stood by his comments about the behavior of middle school students, which he said were "not rocket science."

"You can go sit in a classroom," said Huggins, a former Matanuska-Susitna Borough school board member whose wife is a charter school principal. "It's the time when they start acting up and you start seeing, kind of, the beginning of transition to adulthood. It's a sad commentary."

One of the sponsors of the criminal justice bill, Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, said in interview later that he thought Huggins' comments came from "an education point of view" and made a "credible point" about childhood behavior.

Informed about Huggins' remarks -- including the reference to DNA testing -- Joshua Decker, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, laughed and said he hoped the senator had made a "bad joke."

But he also questioned whether it's possible to predict "when someone's in middle school, that they are going to be a criminal."

"That's certainly a cynical way of viewing the world," Decker said. "And we would hope that no one, particularly an Alaska state senator, would write off some of our kids."

There is research and evidence showing that behavior of children as young as 3 years old can be predictive of later involvement in the juvenile justice system or the commission of violent crimes, said Marny Rivera, an associate professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage's Justice Center who studies biobehavioral criminology.

But, she added, "environment is extremely important."

And if the state gets information suggesting that some children are predisposed toward criminal behavior, Rivera said, "we might use some of that to provide services or assistance to reduce the likelihood of bad behavior."