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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
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)
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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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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