As a Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA), you play a key role in your client’s hiring decisions. As they turn to you for vital data and helpful advice concerning their use of criminal records in hiring, many questions will come up. And since most employers are not experts in public records research, they will count on you to be able to answer their questions.
When it specifically comes to criminal records research, here are some frequently-asked questions your end-users may have:
1. How do you perform the research?
Many of the nation’s more than 3,000 local courthouses allow online access to their public records, others do not. Your public records research provider must understand the nuances of each court system. Some examples include, what records are and are not available online, how to search the records efficiently, and how to ensure complete, up-to-date, and accurate data is reported. When we can’t get what we need online, we send well-trained researchers to the courthouse to hand-search dockets, obtain information from an on-site portal, or request a clerk pull the necessary information.
2. Why does it take 3 days for one search and 1 day for another when the records were requested at the same time?
Turnaround times for public records research depend on several factors, including the availability of records (online is generally faster than a “hand-search”), the lookback period (7-year history can be faster than a 10-year history).
When there is a potential “hit” on a record, the turnaround time can also be delayed to allow time for the researcher to further verify the record.
Ideally, a researcher could access the exact records they need from each courthouse online. In reality, not all research can be completed online. This factor alone causes disparities in turnaround times from county to county. Add to this the fact that many courts have restricted or redacted personally identifiable information (PII) from public indexes, and additional time gets added to the process.
3. How far back do most criminal records searches go?
Typically, employers will want to see a seven-year history, although some require an expanded search scope. Some states limit the reporting of a conviction to seven years from the date of disposition, end of parole, or release from prison, with some also having restriction exceptions based on salary thresholds. Some states also prohibit the reporting of non-convictions, certain types of non-convictions, or certain types of convictions.
4. How is the cost of a criminal records search determined?
Your pricing will of course be driven in part by the cost of your wholesale data, and that, in turn, is driven by several key factors:
- What the court charges to access their records. Some courts assess a fee for a public records search – these vary from $1- $95.00.
- How far back you wish to look, 3-years, 7-years, 10-years, 15 years, 99 years? The further the lookback period, the greater the potential cost.
- Whether there is a ‘hit’ on the record that needs to be further verified. When there is a finding or ‘hit’ on a criminal record, it sometimes can trigger the need for a closer look and possibly, additional research which can result in a higher cost for the research.
5. Do all county courts deliver the same information?
No. This is why it is so important to have an experienced research team with a well-established quality program and procedures in place that reflect the differences — sometimes significant — between what’s available at the court levels. Without continual monitoring of the court records to know what is accessible online versus what is accessible in person versus what is not available at all, it would be easy for a researcher to assume they are looking at a complete history when they might actually need to dig into multiple access points to get the full record.
Public records research generally, and criminal records research specifically, are aspects of background screening that require a high degree of specialization and experience. Your wholesale data provider should be able to help you field the intricate questions that come from your clients/end-users, so you can be their trusted resource.