Data quality can be a big problem in state governments. Often, much of the information governments receive is errors or incomplete. If the data isn’t accurate, then even a form could have serious problems.
Criminal records are a key collection opportunity for state governments that should be used better.
The criminal records are generated from a series of many different categories, such as open, convict or delinquent, with dates on which someone was convicted.
The starting point of a forensic audit should be to look at how well the forensic records have been created. A forensic audit should check whether the prints that are supplied from state government are accurate, whether these prints match the prints that the lab submitted.
Enforcement agencies should often have trouble getting prints from state agencies, since they find them slow and disorganised. There should be a better system for getting prints from state government for investigations.
Once a criminal record is obtained, the agency should take all the basic precautions to ensure that it is correct, such as giving people who have moved away from the state the opportunity to prove that they have not had an offence committed against them.
As a starting point, some states create free services to help people get an accurate criminal record. Maryland is one of these states, and Virginia is another.
A criminal record also has important consequences if it is a problem for employers. If they are aware of a criminal record, then it becomes harder for employers to get someone who can do the job. This may not matter if the problem is trivial, but if the record is indeed important or ongoing, it affects the ability to get a job and the access to financial services.
If an applicant is given a criminal record, then employers might consider hiring a less qualified candidate. There can be adverse consequences for employers with workers who have criminal records who have participated in community service or criminal justice reform programs and gotten a Second Chance Opportunity.
Many states might be considering police body cameras. If they will be recording all officers’ interactions, how will they ensure that those interactions are accurate?
Even basic inquiries can often be difficult. As a starting point, many states might offer a list of questions that should be asked when you come in to get a criminal record.
Many states, for example, say: “Please show me the offence by name, date and year.” This can be good information if a first-time offense is charged against a person. As the offense date approaches and you hear back from the police, then they can tell you exactly when and where the crime was committed.
When it is a non-first-time offense, these lists can make it easier to identify an actual offense. If you have a conviction for shoplifting, for example, then, hopefully, you would be asked, “What was the date of the offense? Is the name, date and year on file?”
This might give you a precise explanation and put the offense into context. Some states also have lists of the arresting police officers, which will help you clarify dates of arrest.
Of course, there is a downside. If the police did not have good record-keeping practices, they could be removed from the list. One state offers a list of people who, if they are removed from the list, must get fingerprinted. This was in part designed to reduce the need for public defenders who rely on a police print to help locate a defendant.
Of course, a fingerprint database isn’t the only chance to get accurate information about a criminal record. The records also need to be put online in some form, and in order to be useful, they need to be updated with information about changes in convictions and misdemeanors.
Both citizens and governments can improve the quality of the criminal records they use. In the case of criminal records, the approach is at least minimally effective.
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