• Todd Eiseman

Why Background Screening Shouldn’t Rely on State Criminal Record Repositories

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) establishes a standard of “maximum possible accuracy” for consumer background screening reports. As we’ll discuss in this post, background screening shouldn’t rely on state criminal record repositories to meet this standard of accuracy.

Instead, the best practice is to search source records, i.e., the case records on file in the county-level court systems.  For reasons that will be made clear, easyBackgrounds follows this best practice rigorously, searching county source records in every instance, particularly to confirm findings presented in statewide and national databases.

Background screening based upon state repository records is often mandated by legislation governing certain occupations and are thus required by state licensing boards.  However, a recent report by the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) that surveyed State Criminal Record Repositories, entitled Survey of State Criminal Record Repositories(December 2015), strongly reinforces the need to search court‑based source records.

Questioning the Accuracy of State Criminal Record Repositories

Data presented in the DoJ’s report clearly illustrate the severe limitations on the reliability and accuracy of the information available in repositories.  Some key facts include:

  • no states have recorded final dispositions for 100 percent of arrests in the last five years and only five have recorded dispositions for more than 90 percent of arrests (Table 1 of the DoJ Survey);

  • twelve states have recorded dispositions for less than 50 percent of arrests (Table 1 of the DoJ Survey);

  • of 36 states that recorded this information, an average and median of 10 and 5 percent, respectively, of the dispositions received at the repository could not be linked to an arrest record – 10 states didn’t report and 4 states don’t know how many they cannot link (Table 8a of the DoJ Survey);

  • 20 states don’t record the amount of time that elapses between the date of disposition and receipt of the disposition by the repository or the date of entry of the disposition in the database, or both (Table 14 of the DoJ Survey); and

  • the average time lapse between final disposition and entry of the data at the repository (for the 38 states able to report) was 107 days and the median was 16 days – one repository required more than 2,400 days (6.5 years!) to get final dispositions into the database (Table 14 of the DoJ Survey).

The Incomplete Nature of State Criminal Record Repositories

Fundamentally, none of the state repositories can considered to be accurate sources of information because they are incomplete:

  • in terms of dispositions reported for arrests;

  • in terms of linking dispositions to reported arrests; and

  • due to the lags in time between issue of final dispositions by the courts and their receipt and recordation in the databases, i.e., checking the database on any given date can miss records not yet received and entered.

It is for these reasons, among others, that easyBackgrounds adheres so carefully to consulting county‑level record sources in order to obtain accurate and compliant reports.  We want to ensure that the FCRA standard is met on behalf of both you and your candidates and employees.

When you need best-in-class accuracy at industry-leading turnaround times, turn to easyBackgrounds to review your screening needs.


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