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:
- We helped states establish and maintain sex offender registration and community notification programs, as required by federal statutes. All states and many Indian tribes now maintain publicly accessible online sex offender registries, which are now available via the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website
- We have supported the creation and ratification of the National Crime Prevention and Privacy Compact, which created a Compact Council to oversee noncriminal justice use of the Interstate Identification Index.
- We provide assistance, guidance and expertise on background check initiatives, including the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)and implementation of the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007.
- We also offer information and guidance to private-sector employers seeking advice on conducting background checks.
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
- Webinars on Auditing Criminal History Information Systems
- SEARCH publications on improving CHRI quality and availability:
- Criminal History Improvement Workshop Proceedings (Little Rock, AR)
- Challenges and Promising Practices for Disposition Reporting: Report from the 2017 SEARCH Winter Membership Group Meeting
- Use and Management of Criminal History Record Information: A Comprehensive Report, 2001 Update
- Use and Management of Criminal History Record Information: A Comprehensive Report, 1993
- Improving Access to and Integrity of Criminal History Records, 2005
- Improving Criminal History Records for Background Checks, 2005
- SEARCH focus group and task force reports are intended to improve the quality, use and access of justice system information by providing insights and recommendations to policy makers and criminal record repository administrators:
- National Focus Group on the Retention of Civil Fingerprints by Criminal History Record Repositories, 2008
- National Focus Group on Emergency Housing and Criminal Record Checks: The Hurricane Katrina Experience, 2007
- National Task Force on the Criminal Backgrounding of America, 2005
- National Task Force on Commercial Sale of Criminal Justice Record Information, 2005
- Report of the National Task Force on Federal Legislation Imposing Reporting Requirements and Expectations on the Criminal Justice System, 2000
- Promising Practices for Auditing Criminal History Information Systems: Findings of a SEARCH Focus Group, 2017
- Interstate Identification Index Name Check Efficacy: Report of the National Task Force to the U.S. Attorney General, 1999
- Some of our NICS and noncriminal justice background check system resources are:
- State Progress in Record Reporting for Firearm-Related Background Checks: Unlawful Drug Users, 2017
- State Progress in Record Reporting for Firearm-Related Background Checks: Fugitives from Justice, 2017
- State Progress in Record Reporting for Firearm-Related Background Checks: Misdemeanor Crimes of Domestic Violence, 2016
- State Progress in Record Reporting for Firearm-Related Background Checks: Fingerprint Processing Advances Improve Background Checks, 2016
- State Progress in Record Reporting for Firearm-Related Background Checks: Protection Order Submissions, 2016
- State Progress in Record Reporting for Firearm-Related Background Checks: Mental Health Submissions, 2016
- Standards for the Security and Privacy of Criminal History Record Information – July 1988
- State Criminal History Records Guides – August 2020
- State Criminal History Records Profiles – November 2020
- State Criminal History Records Profiles Appendix F
- Criminal History Improvement Workshop Proceedings – Little Rock, Arkansas
- Challenges to Reporting Arrest and Disposition Information
- Criminal History Improvement Workshop Proceedings – Albuquerque, New Mexico
- CCH Repository Salaries – June 2020
- SEARCH Membership Survey – October 2020
- Membership Surveys
- Juvenile Records and Extreme Risk Protection Orders: A SEARCH Survey
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.