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The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics

The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics

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Criminal History Law & Policy

Criminal history records are used daily for a wide range of criminal justice and non-criminal justice purposes. Creating and maintaining criminal history records requires the participation and cooperation of a number of entities, including law enforcement, prosecutors, courts, county jails, state corrections departments, and community supervision agencies. State criminal history repositories often find it challenging (and expensive) to maintain operational and technical connectivity with all parties responsible for contributing criminal history record information (CHRI).

SEARCH helps states improve the accuracy and completeness of CHRI through our Criminal History Law and Policy services, support activities, and resources:

  • Facilitating criminal history repository Quality Assurance Program (QAP) self-assessments
  • Conducting biennial Surveys of State Criminal History Information Systems
  • Working closely with states to improve record quality and completeness, and supporting
  • Assisting states in making records available to support firearms background checks.

SEARCH continues to use its experience and national leadership to address a wide range of legal, policy and operational issues relating to criminal history records, and to assist justice agencies, law- and policy-makers.

Learn more about SEARCH’s role in building and supporting CHRI systems and capabilities.

State Repository Records & Reporting Quality Assurance Program (QAP)

State criminal history record repositories provide informational services that in many ways are the underpinning for critical decision-making throughout the criminal justice system and beyond. SEARCH’s State Repository Records and Reporting Quality Assurance Program (QAP) offers voluntary performance standards for various information maintenance and reporting requirements imposed on State criminal history repositories—which can include mandatory reporting, reporting to sex offender registries, responding to survey requests, etc. The program seeks to encourage justice data quality and information integrity through these standards. (SEARCH oversees this program, under funding and direction of the Bureau of Justice Statistics , U.S. Department of Justice.)

Representatives of state repositories helped develop the program, which includes useful quality assurance self-inspection tools—a QA checklist and a methodology to calculate costs to repositories of civil fingerprint handling. As a convenience, the tools are provided in a Word format that enables them to be filled out electronically or in hard copy. 

This program implements several of the record improvement recommendations included in the criminal history background check report produced by the Attorney General at the direction of the Congress.

Surveys of State Criminal History Information Systems

Since 1989, SEARCH has conducted a biennial national survey of state criminal history information systems, then collates and analyzes the results. The resulting report provides law- and policymakers, administrators, managers, academia, research institutions, and other agencies and individuals with the most comprehensive data available on record quantity and completeness, and on procedures used by repositories to collect information and maintain record quality.

Record Quality Improvements

SEARCH has worked closely with the state criminal history repositories for more than 50 years to improve record quality and completeness.

  • Working with the U.S. Department of Justice, SEARCH has developed successive generations of privacy and security policies that are reflected in both DOJ regulations and Federal legislation.
  • SEARCH is a founding member of the Joint Task Force on Rap Sheet Standardization (JTF), which created and updated a series of formats for transmitting detailed, comprehensive criminal record information.
  • SEARCH provides assistance under the BJS-administered National Criminal History Improvement Program (NCHIP), which focuses on supporting state and court initiatives to improve the rap sheet’s accuracy, completeness, timeliness, and immediate availability.
  • SEARCH supports the nationwide implementation of criminal justice and noncriminal justice background check systems. These include systems, administered by the FBI or DOJ, that permit interstate access to criminal records maintained in all 50 states:

Today, the compilation and dissemination of rap sheets continues to change with law, practice and technology. Through this evolution, SEARCH continues to be involved in national initiatives that address legal and policy issues affecting criminal history records, including improving record quality and availability. We support balancing society’s need for criminal history information with individual rights, and efforts to improve state participation in national initiatives.

  • SEARCH provides subject matter expert support to the National Crime Prevention and Privacy Compact Council, which governs noncriminal justice use of the III
  • SEARCH serves on the Disposition Task Force of the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services’ Advisory Policy Board (CJIS APB), which seeks to improve the level and ease of reporting charge dispositions to state repositories, thus improving the completeness of criminal history records

Noncriminal Justice Background Checks and the NICS

The past two decades have seen a surge in demand for criminal history record background checks for noncriminal justice purposes—such as screening an individual’s suitability for employment, licensing, or placement in positions of trust.  The demand is such that noncriminal justice background checks now eclipse background checks for criminal justice purposes, according to published reports.

SEARCH has long been involved with efforts by the States and Federal Government to tackle the legal, policy, and operational aspects of criminal history background checks for noncriminal justice purposes. For example:

SEARCH participates in NICS record reporting and quality improvement initiatives, and provides technical assistance to states that receive NICS improvement grants from the U.S. Department of Justice. In addition, SEARCH responds to question from Congress and the Administration about NICS and the states’ role in the system through outreach efforts.

Criminal History Law and Policy Publications and Resources

Expert Policy Assistance

Need assistance or have questions related to legal, policy or operational issues related to criminal history records, recordkeeping systems, background checks, records improvements, or more? We can help! Just fill out this form and we will get back to you by phone or email.

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