BJS: Bureau of Justice Statistics

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Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
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Justice Statistics Improvement Programs

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    Criminal Records Programs | State Criminal Justice Statistics Programs | Glossary | Related sites

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    Criminal Records Statistics for summary findings, publications, related sites

Criminal Records Programs

Criminal records describe offenses and offenders and include offender fingerprint identification and notations of arrest and subsequent dispositions. Accurate, timely and complete criminal history record information enables States to immediately identify persons who are prohibited from firearm purchase or are ineligible to hold positions of responsibility involving children, the elderly, or the disabled; enables criminal justice agencies to make decisions on pretrial release, career criminal charging, determinate sentencing, and correctional assignments; is critical to assist law enforcement in criminal investigations and decision making; and, is required for background checks for national security, employment, licensing and related economic purposes, as required under recent legislation.

All States have established a criminal record repository which maintains criminal records and identification data and responds to law enforcement inquiries and inquiries for other purposes such as background checks and national security. Criminal records include data provided by all components of the criminal justice system: law enforcement, prosecution, courts and corrections. Automated interfaces with courts and prosecutors are critical to ensuring that all criminal records include dispositions at each stage of the criminal process. Criminal records include records of protection orders, sex offender registries, and other records of contacts with the justice system.

The FBI administers national systems which permit interstate access to criminal records maintained in all 50 States. These systems include:

  • NICS Index
  • National Crime Information Center (NCIC)
  • Interstate Identification Index (III)
  • National Protection Order File
  • National Sex Offender Registry
  • Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS)
   (See Glossary below for more information about these systems.)

Through the National Criminal History Improvement Program (NCHIP), BJS provides grants and technical assistance to the States and localities to improve the quality, timeliness, and immediate accessibility of criminal history records and related information.

For more information, see the National Criminal History Improvement Program page.

Records developed for statistical purposes describe and classify each criminal incident and include data on offender characteristics, relationships between the offender and the victim, and offense impact. Statistical data are extracted from operational records using uniform criteria for classification and collection. Detailed statistical data permit localities to identify problem areas and to allocate manpower and limited financial resources in an efficient and effective manner. The FBI administers the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS). In 2001, BJS awarded funds to improve NIBRS participation. (See the NIBRS Improvement Program page for information about this program.)

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State Criminal Justice Statistics Programs

BJS has long supported the establishment and operation of Statistical Analysis Centers (SACs) in the States and territories to collect, analyze, and report statistics on crime and justice to Federal, State, and local levels of government, and to share state-level information nationally. The information produced by SACs and their involvement in criminal justice projects has been and will continue to be critical to State, local, and Federal criminal justice agencies and community organizations as they develop programs and policies related to crime, illegal drugs, services to victims, and the administration of justice.

The State Justice Statistics Program (SJS) is designed to maintain and enhance each State's capacity to address criminal justice issues through the collection and analysis of data. The SJS Program provides limited funds to each State to coordinate statistical activities within the State, conduct research as needed to estimate impacts of legislative and policy changes, and serve a liaison role in assisting BJS to gather data from respondent agencies within their States.

For more information about current funding opportunities under the SJS Program, see the Funding page.

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Glossary of terms

Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS):
An automated system for searching fingerprint files and transmitting fingerprint images. AFIS computer equipment can scan fingerprint impressions (or utilize electronically transmitted fingerprint images) and automatically extract and digitize ridge details and other identifying characteristics in sufficient detail to enable the computer's searching and matching components to distinguish a single fingerprint from thousands or even millions of fingerprints previously scanned and stored in digital form in the computer's memory. The process eliminates the manual searching of fingerprint files and increases the speed and accuracy of ten-print processing (arrest fingerprint cards and noncriminal justice applicant fingerprint cards). AFIS equipment also can be used to identify individuals from "latent" (crime scene) fingerprints, with even fragmentary prints of single fingers in some cases. Digital fingerprint images generated by AFIS equipment can be transmitted electronically to remote sites, eliminating the necessity of mailing fingerprint cards and providing remote access to AFIS fingerprint files.
Central Repository:
The database (or the agency housing the database) that maintains criminal history records on all State offenders. Records include fingerprint files and files containing identification segments and notations of arrests and dispositions. The central repository is generally responsible for State-level identification of arrestees, and commonly serves as the central control terminal for contact with FBI record systems. Inquiries from local agencies for a national record check (for criminal justice or firearm check purposes) are routed to the FBI via the central repository. Although usually housed in the Department of Public Safety, the central repository may be maintained in some States by the State Police or some other State agency.
Criminal Justice Information Services Advisory Policy Board (APB):
Successor to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) APB, the CJIS APB is comprised of 30 criminal justice officials who provide policy input to guide the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the administration of its CJIS Division. The CJIS Division administers the NCIC, the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), and other information system programs determined by the FBI director to have some relationship with these programs.
Statistical Analysis Center (SAC):
Statistical Analysis Centers (SACs) are units or agencies at the State government level that use operational, management, and research information from all components of the criminal justice system to conduct objective analyses of statewide and systemwide policy issues. There are currently SACs in 53 States and territories. The SACs vary in their placement within the State government structures. Some are within a criminal justice or general State planning or coordinating agency; some are part of a governor's advisory staff; and others are located in a line agency such as the State police, attorney general's office, or department of corrections. There are several housed in universities.
Criminal History Record Information (CHRI) or
Criminal History Record Information System:
A record (or the system maintaining such records) that includes individual identifiers and describes an individual's arrests and subsequent dispositions. Criminal history records do not include intelligence or investigative data or sociological data such as drug use history. CHRI systems usually include information on juveniles if they are tried as adults in criminal courts.

Most, however, do not include data describing involvement of an individual in the juvenile justice system. All data in CHRI systems are usually backed by fingerprints of the record subjects to provide positive identification. State legislation varies concerning disclosure of criminal history records for noncriminal justice purposes.
Data Quality:
The extent to which criminal history records are complete, accurate and timely. In addition, accessibility sometimes is considered a data quality factor. The key concern in data quality is the completeness of records and the extent to which records include dispositions as well as arrest and charge information. Other concerns include the timeliness of data reporting to State and Federal repositories, the timeliness of data entry by the repositories, the readability of criminal history records and the ability to have access to the records when necessary.
Felony or Serious Misdemeanor:
The category of offenses for which fingerprints and criminal history information are accepted by the FBI and entered in the Bureau's files, including the III system. Serious misdemeanor is defined to exclude certain minor offenses, such as drunkenness or minor traffic offenses.
Interstate Identification Index (III):
An "index-pointer" system for the interstate exchange of criminal history records. Under III, the FBI maintains an identification index to persons arrested for felonies or serious misdemeanors under State or Federal law. The index includes identification information, (such as name, date of birth, race, and sex), FBI Numbers and State Identification Numbers (SID) from each State holding information about an individual. Search inquiries from criminal justice agencies nationwide are transmitted automatically via State telecommunications networks and the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) telecommunications lines. Searches are made on the basis of name and other identifiers. The process is entirely automated and takes approximately five seconds to complete. If a hit is made against the Index, record requests are made using the SID or FBI Number, and data are automatically retrieved from each repository holding records on the individual and forwarded to the requesting agency.

Participation requires that the State maintain an automated criminal history record system capable of interfacing with the III system and capable of responding automatically to all interstate and Federal/State record requests.
Juvenile Justice Records:
Official records of juvenile justice adjudications. Most adult criminal history record systems do not accept such records, which are frequently not supported by fingerprints and which usually are confidential under State law. Pursuant to an order dated July 15, 1992, the FBI now accepts, and will disseminate, juvenile records on the same basis as adult records. States, however, are not required to submit such records to the FBI.
Livescan and Cardscan:
Livescans are automated devices for generating and transmitting digitized fingerprint images. Livescan devices capture fingerprint images directly from subjects' fingers, which are rolled onto glass scanning plates. Cardscan devices scan and digitize standard inked fingerprint cards and can transmit electronic images with related textual data to remote sites for printout or direct use.
Master Name Index (MNI):
A subject identification index maintained by criminal history record repositories that includes names and other identifiers for each person about whom a record is held in the systems. As of 1999, only one State did not have at least a partially automated MNI; almost all States (45) had fully automated MNIs. The automated name index is the key to rapidly identifying persons who have criminal records for such purposes as presale firearm checks, criminal investigations or bailsetting. MNIs may include "felony flags," which indicate whether record subjects have arrests or convictions for felony offenses.
NICS Index:
The NICS Index contains records provided by State and federal agencies about persons prohibited from receiving firearms under federal law. All records in the NICS Index are disqualifying records and will prohibit the sale of a firearm. Most records in the NICS Index are obtained from federal agencies. However, authorized local and State law enforcement agencies may voluntarily contribute records to the NICS Index.
National Crime Information Center (NCIC):
An automated database of criminal justice and justice-related records maintained by the FBI. The database includes the "hot files" of wanted and missing persons, stolen vehicles and identifiable stolen property, including firearms. Access to NCIC files is through central control terminal operators in each State that are connected to NCIC via dedicated telecommunications lines maintained by the FBI. Local agencies and officers on the beat can access the State control terminal via the State law enforcement network. Inquiries are based on name and other nonfingerprint identification. Most criminal history inquiries of the III system are made via the NCIC telecommunications system. NCIC data may be provided only for criminal justice and other specifically authorized purposes. For criminal history searches, this includes criminal justice employment, employment by Federally chartered or insured banking institutions or securities firms, and use by State and local governments for purposes of employment and licensing pursuant to a State statute approved by the U.S. Attorney General. Inquiries regarding presale firearm checks are included as criminal justice uses.
National Crime Prevention and Privacy Compact:
An interstate and Federal/State compact which establishes formal procedures and governance structures for the use of the Interstate Identification Index (III). It is designed to facilitate the exchange of criminal history data among States for noncriminal justice purposes and to eliminate the need for the FBI to maintain duplicate data about State offenders. Under the compact, the operation of this system is overseen by a policymaking council comprised of Federal and State officials. The key concept underlying the compact is agreement among all signatory States that all criminal history information (except sealed records) will be provided in response to noncriminal justice requests from another State - regardless of whether the information being requested would be permitted to be disseminated for a similar noncriminal justice purpose within the State holding the data. The compact was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President in October 1998. The compact became effective in April 1999, following ratification by two State legislatures, Montana on April 8, 1999 and Georgia on April 28, 1999. To date, 25 additional States have entered into the compact: Nevada (May 1999); Florida (June 1999); Colorado (March 2000); Iowa (April 2000); Connecticut (June 2000); South Carolina (June 2000); Arkansas (February 2001); Kansas (April 2001); Alaska (May 2001); Oklahoma (May 2001); Maine (June 2001); New Jersey (January 2002); Minnesota (March 2002); Arizona (April 2002); Tennessee (June 2003), North Carolina (June 2003); New Hampshire (June 2003); Missouri (July 2003); Ohio (January 2004); Wyoming (February 2005); Idaho (March 2005), Maryland (May 2005); Oregon (July 2005); West Virginia (April 2006); and Hawaii (May 2006).
National Fingerprint File (NFF):
A system and procedures designed as a component of the III system, which, when fully implemented, would establish a totally decentralized system for the interstate exchange of criminal history records. The NFF will contain fingerprints of Federal offenders and a single set of fingerprints on State offenders from each State in which an offender has been arrested for a felony or a serious misdemeanor. Under the NFF concept, States will forward only the first-arrest fingerprints of an individual to the FBI accompanied by other identification data such as name and date of birth.

Fingerprints for subsequent arrests would not be forwarded. Disposition data on the individual would also be retained at the State repository and would not be forwarded to the FBI. Upon receipt of the first-arrest fingerprint cards (or electronic images), the FBI will enter the individual's fingerprint impressions in the NFF and will enter the person's name and identifiers in the III, together with an FBI Number and a State Identification (SID) Number for each State maintaining a record on the individual. Charge and disposition information on State offenders will be maintained only at the State level, and State repositories will be required to respond to all authorized record requests concerning these individuals for both criminal justice and noncriminal justice purposes. States would have to release all data on record subjects for noncriminal justice inquiries regardless of whether the data could be released for similar purposes within the State. The NFF has been implemented in eight States: Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Montana, and Kansas.
National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS):
An automated system operated by the FBI established in accordance with the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act to check the eligibility of prospective gun purchasers.
National Protection Order File:
The NCIC Protection Order File contains court orders that are issued to help law enforcement prevent acts of domestic violence against a person or to prevent a person from stalking, intimidating, or harassing another person. Orders are issued by both civil and criminal state courts.
National Sex Offender Registry:
The NCIC Convicted Sexual Offender Registry File is designed to help law enforcement agencies keep track of convicted sex offenders released into the community. The file contains records of persons: convicted of a criminal offense against a minor; convicted of a sexually violent offense; or who are sexually violent predators.
Positive Identification:
Identification of an individual using biometric characteristics that are unique and not subject to alteration. In present usage, the term refers to identification by fingerprints but may also include identification by retinal images, voiceprints or other techniques. Positive identification is to be distinguished from identification using name, sex, date of birth, or other personal identifiers as shown on a document subject to alteration or counterfeit such as a birth certificate, Social Security card or driver's license. Because individuals can have identical or similar names, ages, etc., identifications based on such characteristics are not reliable.

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