A database of more than 500 million criminal records sounds mighty impressive, doesn’t it? It’s sure to have everything you need to know about your candidates, right? Not exactly.
The reality: information in these databases is rarely complete or up-to-date.
If this is your sole method for screening employees, you’re likely basing your hiring decisions on incomplete and misleading information.
Here’s the truth behind criminal records databases.
There’s no such thing as a true national criminal background check. These databases are created and maintained by private businesses that purchase information from courts (where available), corrections departments and probation departments.
The information is not as all-inclusive as it sounds. Companies may claim to have “extensive” and “comprehensive” databases, but more often than not, these databases contain outdated and even wrong information. This means you’re not getting the full scope of a job candidate’s background.
Here are the three biggest problems with national criminal records databases:
1. Incomplete records
Just because a company has 500 million records, it doesn’t mean they have all the available information on your candidates.
Individual companies are responsible for obtaining and maintaining the information in their databases. The type of records collected and where they come from can vary. Some databases contain only records of felonies. Others don’t include details about the crime or identifying information about the people involved, like birth dates. Often, you don’t even know if the record reported belongs to your candidate or someone else with the same name.
Recently, the Colorado state health care exchange hired a new director, Christa Ann McClure, whom they claim to have “thoroughly vetted”. Shortly after she was hired, they learned she had been indicted for stealing from her last employer, the state of Montana. Officials from the Colorado state health care exchange said a criminal background check and references showed her to be “completely clean.”
Relying on incomplete background information makes you more vulnerable to poor hiring decisions, putting the safety of your business and employees in jeopardy.
2. Missing states and counties
Not all counties make court records available for purchase. And when they do, the information is often incomplete. The “national” database you’re relying on to handle all your screening needs includes only the records that various government and law enforcement entities have made available for you to buy.
Background information you get may be piecemeal at best and probably doesn’t include reports from all states or jurisdictions.
Typically, these databases contain case records from fewer than 20 percent of the county or county-equivalent courts in the U.S. With more than 3,100 of these courts across the country, that means information is missing from nearly 2,500 courts.
Moreover, that means there’s an 80 percent chance that the information you’re looking for isn’t there.
3. Out-of-date information
Databases aren’t always updated regularly.
Some companies update their records as often as bi-weekly, while others only update records annually. Many advertise that information is updated daily. This can be misleading. Often it means companies simply renew one record each day.
And don’t forget that any data is only as accurate as the person who enters it. Original database entries may now be incorrect: an arrest may never have led to indictment or prosecution, a felony charge may have been reduced to a misdemeanor, or a conviction may have been expunged.
All these inconsistencies and missing information can make it difficult to be confident about your hiring decision.
However, too many hiring managers still think that checking a national database is a sufficient screening process that will help them cut a few corners and shave some time off getting their new hire in place.
So how can you rest assured you’re thoroughly screening job candidates?
Consider other options
While a multi-state criminal records database search can be helpful in some cases, it’s best used to supplement other more extensive background screening services.
A good employment screening service will go directly to the courts, to collect background information. This means searching criminal history records at the county level, where cases originate.
If you do choose to supplement the court searches with a multi-state criminal records database, any information returned on a search should be verified at the originating court before it’s reported to you. This way, you know you’re getting the most accurate, up-to-date information about your candidates, as well as remaining compliant with FCRA requirements.
Becky Parker, 2019