BJS/SEARCH Task Force Examines America's Expanding Criminal Record Backgrounding Culture

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America is witnessing a dramatic increase in the use of criminal record background checks to determine where individuals can work, live, volunteer and engage in a number of other activities. This increase has largely occurred with little consideration given to the processes used to conduct the checks, to the terminology used to describe them, and to whether or not they achieve their intended goal: improved public safety.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and SEARCH have assembled a groundbreaking Task Force to take a first comprehensive and analytic look at the development of an American criminal record backgrounding culture.

The BJS/SEARCH National Task Force on the Backgrounding of America met in San Antonio, Texas, on August 16-17 and in Chicago, Illinois, on December 14-15 to take a close look at the four issues likely to determine whether history will judge America's emerging backgrounding culture as a good or bad thing:

  • Clarity: Can we better define what we mean by a background check, and do a better job of using appropriate and consistent terms for what we mean?
  • Reliability: Can we better verify the identity of the background subject; match the data with the right person; and make data more accurate, complete and up to date?
  • Relevancy: What type of check is relevant? All convictions? Violent crimes? Is arrest-only data ever relevant? Credit, employment, education or other data?
  • Fairness: Can we ensure that backgrounding doesn't disparately impact minorities; will not snuff out chances for reintegration; be misused; or will not smother the values that nourish a democracy-anonymity, privacy and freedom?

Task Force members represent virtually all categories of participants in the criminal record check process: federal and state justice agencies, public and private providers of background check services, subject-matter experts, and end-users from the public and private sectors and from volunteer organizations.

The Task Force is co-chaired by SEARCH Members Prof. Kent Markus (At-Large) and Ms. Donna Uzzell (Florida). Other participating SEARCH Members include Mr. Bob Armstrong (Colorado), Mr. Paco Aumand (Vermont), Dr. Al Blumstein (At-Large), Mr. Barry LaCroix (Massachusetts), Mr. Mike Lesko (Texas), Ms. Liane Moriyama (Hawaii) and Ms. Georgene Ramming (Arizona). Task Force activities are funded through SEARCH's Brady grant with BJS. Additional Task Force activities are anticipated in 2005.