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Criminal Background Checks

Criminal Background Checks. The National Perspective. Topics to Be Covered. Background Checks: Considerations and Types Reforming the System: MENTOR’s Efforts What’s Next: The Future of Background Checks . Background Checks. Considerations and Types.

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Criminal Background Checks

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  1. Criminal Background Checks The National Perspective

  2. Topics to Be Covered • Background Checks: Considerations and Types • Reforming the System: MENTOR’s Efforts • What’s Next: The Future of Background Checks

  3. Background Checks Considerations and Types

  4. What Should I Know about Background Checks? • Each state sets its own laws on background checks. The result? • Thorough background checks are not accessible in some states • Costs and response times vary greatly from state to state • There is no consistency on eligibility, procedures, etc. • The “perfect” check: there is no single database in this country with 100% of all criminal records

  5. Terms: Fingerprint-based vs. Name-based • A name-based check uses a volunteer’s name/SSN to find possible criminal records. This has risks: • Individuals can give you a false name to hide a criminal past. Over 1% of the 45 million individuals on file in the FBI database have used over 100 aliases and fake SSNs. • You could get a “false positive” – the volunteer seems to have a criminal record, but it is really another person with the same name. • A fingerprint-based check is the only way to verify an individual’s identity. Fingerprints cannot be falsified.

  6. Terms: Convictions vs. Arrests • Criminal record databases often include “open arrests” • The criminal record was not updated to indicate what happened after the arrest (convicted, found not guilty, charges were dropped, etc) • Some types of background checks only access convictions • Open arrests are not included • Can result in an “all-clear” on an individual with an arrest record

  7. Terms: Rap Sheet vs. Fitness Determination • Rap sheet: a print-out of crimes found • Fitness determination: • A third party examines rap sheet for “barrier crimes” • The program receives notice of whether or not barrier crimes are present, but not the rap sheet • Pros and cons to each • Rap sheets are difficult to interpret, so fitness determinations are easier to use • Rap sheets provide the most “context” for criminal records • Fitness determinations better protect the privacy of your volunteer

  8. Types of Background Checks • There are several kinds of background checks. Not all are accessible in every state. • County/local check • State check • Private vendor check • FBI check • Every program must decide what type of background check works best for them.

  9. County and State Background Checks • Obtained through local police department or state agency • Can be name-based or fingerprint-based depending on state or jurisdiction • Includes only crimes committed within that county/jurisdiction • People often work, live and drive through more than one county • People move from state to state • People vacation, serve guard duty, or take business trips in other states • Relying on volunteer to be truthful about past residences

  10. Private Vendor Check • Obtained through background investigation companies • Costs and response times vary • Name-based checks; generally only access conviction records • Some check records for counties of residence for the last X years • Some maintain “national” databases of criminal records (often searchable online). However: • 17 states do not sell or share any criminal data with private companies • Other states share only limited criminal records data (such as parole records)

  11. FBI Background Check • Obtained through state (if accessible) • Always fingerprint-based • Includes convictions and open arrests • Cost is $18 plus state fee • Response time varies by state • Most states return a fitness determination; some return rap sheets

  12. FBI Background Checks • FBI database is the most complete criminal database in the U.S. • Includes all federal crimes, plus 70-90% of each state’s criminal records. • Not included are the lowest-level misdemeanors and citations, which states generally do not submit to the FBI’s database • Includes over 200 million crimes committed by over 45 million individuals • 5,000 – 7,000 people are added to the FBI database each day. • All records are fingerprint-based

  13. Reforming the System MENTOR’s Efforts

  14. The Experience for Mentoring Organizations • For mentoring, background checks are a critical part of the volunteer screening process • Several years ago, we started hearing that local programs were having troubles with the background check system: • They needed nationwide data, but FBI checks were rarely accessible in many states • When available, FBI and state background checks were too costly and took too long to get results • It was confusing to figure out what agency handled background checks, eligibility, and how to apply

  15. Documenting the Problem: What We Found • A confusing decentralized system • Over 1200 state statutes govern access to background checks • No consistency from state to state on procedures, eligibility, etc. • In most states, FBI background checks weren’t available to mentoring organizations: • Lack of accessibility to FBI checks (only 14 states allowed access to mentoring organizations) • High cost (average $30, ranged from $0 - $75) • Lengthy turnaround time (average 6-8 weeks)

  16. Our Proposed Response • We proposed to Congress a national solution: • Allow all organizations working with vulnerable populations to access FBI background checks directly • Bypassing the states would create a consistent, streamlined national approach • Reduce or eliminate the background check fees • Improve turnaround time to 2 weeks or less

  17. Congressional Action • Legislation on this national solution passed the Senate in 2002 under the leadership of Senators Biden and Hatch. But it didn’t pass the House before Congress adjourned. • Instead, Congress created an 18-month FBI background check pilot program through the PROTECT Act to test several methods of obtaining FBI checks • Goal is to find the best method and implement it as a permanent solution for youth-serving organizations

  18. The SafetyNET Pilot Program • Three organizations were selected by Congress for the pilot program: • MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership • Boys & Girls Clubs of America • National Council on Youth Sports • Three states (MT, TN, VA) were also selected for a state-run pilot program • MENTOR’s portion of the pilot is called SafetyNET • Any mentoring organization in the country can apply to MENTOR for participation

  19. SafetyNET Basics • A standard FBI check, with access to both federal and most state offenses • Cost: $18 per volunteer • 3 to 5 day response time • Results are a fitness determination, with option to receive full rap sheet • A special website tracks progress and allows results to be downloaded • In MT, TN, VA – FBI check plus state check; fees and procedures vary

  20. How Does It Work? • Programs mail fingerprint cards to MENTOR • MENTOR scans and submits them electronically to the FBI • The FBI pulls any matching criminal records • National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) makes fitness determinations • Fitness determination available online (on password-protected website)

  21. What’s Next? The Future of Background Checks

  22. The Pilot Program • The pilot will end in January 2005 • The FBI is required to examine the pilot, study weaknesses in the current system, and make recommendations for a permanent workable solution • We will work with Congress and the FBI to develop a system that is: • Accessible to all kinds of organizations that work with vulnerable populations • Affordable • Timely • Simple to use

  23. How You Can Help • If you want to join in the effort to advocate for a better background check system: • Encourage your national organizations to join the coalition of organizations working on this issue • Stay up to date through MENTOR’s Advocacy Network (http://www.mentoring.org/advocate) • Contact your Members of Congress and tell them about the troubles you have with background checks • If you have suggestions or stories you’d like to share, let me know. We collect them to share in our work with Congress.

  24. Any Questions? • Contact: Margo Pedroso mpedroso@mentoring.org (703) 224-2221 • Or, visit: http://www.mentoring.org/safetynet/ http://www.mentoring.org/takeaction

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