This article addresses critical information gaps as they relate to the disparity and accuracy of criminal records data within the FBI database and sporadic and incomplete information reported by individual states and U.S. territories. This information is critical for employers who only use FBI database criminal information to conduct pre employment background checks. Please refer to Part I of this article to obtain a complete copy of this publication.
Criminal Record Reporting Inconsistencies at the State Level
States participating in the III’s National Fingerprint File (NFF), as described earlier in this article, only submit the first arrest fingerprint images on a subject to establish a pointer record within the III and to include felony and serious misdemeanor records. Any subsequent information regarding the final disposition of each case is rarely updated in the database. Such information as dispositions, expungements, or subsequent arrests is maintained solely at the state level. This is in lieu of having the state forward all of its records to the FBI for retention and dissemination from the FBI’s centralized repository. Actually, only 30% of the entire U.S. population lives in areas where the final outcomes of cases are not reported to the database.
In November of 2011, The United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released its latest report titled "Survey of State Criminal History Information Systems, 2010". The report was prepared by The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics (SEARCH) along with additional government agencies. The report focuses on the status of several state and U.S. territory criminal history files, the repository practices, and the timeliness of reporting information, among other statistics. The report is based on surveys conducted by administrators of state and territory criminal history record repositories in March thru June of 2010 and includes the results of 56 jurisdictions, which include 50 states, the District of Columbia and 5 U.S. territories. The report provides a snap-shot as of October 11, 2011.
The Disparity of Reporting States and Territories
Nationwide, over 72 million criminal history records are accessible through the FBI’s III system and 70% of all III records are maintained by the states. Only 30% of records are actually maintained by the FBI in total.
The following diagram provides further insight into the disparity of states and territories that provide criminal data back to the FBI database. Only 27% of the total jurisdictions provide criminal data to both NFF and III, 64% provide and share data through III, and none of the U.S. territories participate in the III system.
Additional statistics revealed with the 2010 survey include numerous factors in data disparity and accuracy, as provided below:
- Only 27 states and Guam have fully automated criminal history files
- Only 15 states reported that 80% of arrest records within the past 5 years include a final disposition
- Only 22 states reported that 70% of arrest records within the past 5 years include a final disposition
- Only 28 states reported that 60% of arrest records within the past 5 years include a final disposition
According to the report, the accuracy and completeness of criminal record dispositions beyond 5 years continue to decrease dramatically.
FBI and State Criminal Information is only as Good as the Reporting Jurisdiction
Each state establishes its own court system, which includes courts at the local and county levels and each court has its own administrative process and local funding. There are over 5,400 courts in the United States that hear criminal proceedings related to felony and/or misdemeanor charges; however, only a fraction of those courts report their case information to their respective state repositories, which in turn provide their records to the FBI database. Also, remember that only felonies and serious misdemeanors are reported and stored in the FBI’s criminal database. Lower level misdemeanors that could be critical for employment hiring decisions will not be included within the database.
Local, county, and state budgets continue to cut into the integrity of state-maintained criminal record repositories. With the lack of staff to enter data or to upload critical information into state maintained criminal repositories, lag times and errors in such information will continue to grow. Cuts in police and court administrative staff create a huge workload and with concerns of completing primary day-to-day tasks at hand, functions like updating the state database as become a secondary priority. Budget cuts also lead to cuts in critical computer equipment needed to maintain criminal information efficiently and effectively. Each reporting criminal court or jurisdiction is also set up and managed independently by court administrators or elected officials, which adds another layer of inconsistency throughout the data gathering and reporting process. These inconsistencies create critical holes in the criminal information that is necessary to assess the integrity and suitability of individuals using state and FBI criminal data alone.
Best Practices for Conducting a Comprehensive Pre Employment Criminal Background Check
Although a few states do a better job than others in maintaining their state’s criminal database and reporting information to the FBI criminal records system; employers should not rely on this information as their sole source of criminal data. A comprehensive pre employment criminal background check can only be conducted by using several sources of information such as county/parish, state, federal and even proprietary national criminal database information. Remember that the original reporting jurisdiction/court provides the most current and reliable case information available. Concentrating research efforts into areas where an applicant has lived, worked or even attended school provides a more concentrated and accurate criminal records search. Criminal information used for background screening purposes should also be carefully vetted to ensure that case information includes current and accurate case disposition information along with sufficient identifiers to properly confirm the identity of the subject’s information in question.
Employment Background Investigations Inc. works with employers on a global scale to develop and administer comprehensive pre employment criminal background check programs. We are committed to providing employers and our readers with valuable education and resources on changing legislation, cutting-edge, and compliant solutions to meet federal, state, local, and international mandatory legal guidelines. EBI is not providing legal advice or counsel and nothing provided in this publication should be deemed as legal guidance or advice. Readers should consult with their own legal counsel to determine their responsibilities or if they have questions on any information provided by EBI.
EBI is a technology driven innovator and leader in providing domestic and global pre employment background checks, drug testing, occupational healthcare, and I-9 compliance solutions for employers. With emphasis on business process optimization, EBI services over 5,000 clients in over 200 countries and territories worldwide and specializes in the development, implementation and management of comprehensive and customized pre employment screening programs for large and multi-national clients. EBI is a founding member and active participant within the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS). EBI is the only background screening firm to hold an ISO27001:2005 certification for information security and to be accredited by the Background Screening Credentialing Council (BSCC) created by the NAPBS.