State criminal history record repositories provide informational services that in many ways are the underpinning for critical decisionmaking throughout the criminal justice system and beyond. Repository information has a direct bearing on public safety, homeland security, who works with our children, and in tens of millions of instances each year is a determinant of whether an individual gets the job that he or she seeks.
Yet, given the far-reaching importance of this information, what is collected, how it is processed and who can access it remains largely directed by a hodgepodge of Federal and State statutes, practices, policies and technology.
While substantial investments by the Federal government and the states have brought systemic improvements, the effectiveness of the national criminal records exchange system continues to experience well-documented shortcomings. For example, there is a wide variation from state to state in the completeness of criminal records.
Addressing the quality of information in state repositories—particularly as an ongoing improvement process—is an important goal to protect individuals and the public.
Voluntary Performance Standards
The State Repository Records and Reporting Quality Assurance Program (QAP) offers voluntary performance standards for various information maintenance and reporting requirements of State criminal history repositories. 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.
The maintenance and reporting requirements imposed on state repositories can include:
- Criminal history record operations
- Mandatory reporting
- Responding to survey requests
- Reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)
- Reporting to sex offender registries.
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. Also assisting in development of this program were officials from the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division . The checklist and fee analysis tool were reviewed by the SEARCH Membership Group and pilot tested in several states. 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.
For many years, SEARCH worked with BJS to bring together subject matter experts to deliberate issues and produce reports 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.
These focus group and task force reports include:
- National Focus Group on the Retention of Civil Fingerprints by Criminal History Record Repositories
- National Focus Group on Emergency Housing and Criminal Record Checks: The Hurricane Katrina Experience
- National Task Force on the Criminal Backgrounding of America
- National Task Force on Commercial Sale of Criminal Justice Record Information