Employers in Georgia – or any other employers or entities that regularly run criminal background checks of Georgia’s criminal records databases – should be aware of an alarming recent report from one of the state’s top newspapers. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia’s criminal records databases are “filled with information gaps that make the records unreliable for the state’s judges, employers and probation officers.” Said another way, criminal history checks that pull information from Georgia’s state-level databases may not offer a full, accurate, and up-to-date portrait of a person’s criminal history in the state.
Precisely how severe are the gaps in the criminal records databases? That answer varies from county to county. Most criminal records originate at the county level: that’s where the arrest takes place, where the charges are filed, where court proceedings occur, where verdicts are delivered, and where criminal convictions are ultimately entered into the public record. State databases are then assembled and populated by compiling information from county records. Specifically, county courts report into the appropriate criminal database or repository in their state. Employers and other users can then find criminal history information from across the state by conducting state-level criminal background checks. The weakness of this system is that it is ultimately only reliable if the counties are vigilant and consistent about reporting up-to-date criminal history information.
Unfortunately, some of Georgia’s biggest counties have evidently fallen behind in their obligation to report criminal record information into state criminal records databases. The Journal-Constitution found that Fulton County – home to Atlanta, Georgia’s biggest metropolis – had never reported “final outcomes…for more than 1.5 million charges,” or roughly 40 percent of all the criminal charges that the state database has on record for the county. Some 19 000 of the charges with missing information were serious violent felony cases.
These missing updates can have problematic impacts for employees and job seekers alike. For employers, it becomes difficult to make a hiring decision with confidence that a candidate doesn’t have a serious criminal conviction. For job seekers, it means that a background check might not reflect dropped charges or not guilty verdicts, which can lead to rescinded job offers even if the candidate in question was proven innocent.
At backgroundchecks.com, we always try to be transparent and forthright with our clients about just how thorough any given check we offer will be. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a “comprehensive” criminal history check. Instead of relying on one database to provide all relevant information, the best practice for creating a comprehensive background check is to assemble a package of different criminal history checks so that the gaps or shortcomings of one might be filled by another. For instance, because criminal records are filed at the county level, county criminal checks are often the most “thorough” option, at least for finding criminal information in that given county. The shortcoming there, of course, is that a county is a small geographic space, and any illegal activity committed outside of that space wouldn’t register in county records. It’s with extra checks, including searches of state-level criminal records databases, that employers can expand their reach and minimize the risk of overlooking something.
The good news is that because the media has drawn attention to the gaps in the Georgia criminal records database, it’s likely that the state and its counties will work going forward to address the problem. In the meantime, though, we’d advise employers to consider other options for reinforcing their criminal background checks. For instance, by using an address history check for a candidate and then ordering individual county checks for each place where your candidate has lived, you can expand the reach of your criminal history search process without necessarily leaning on a state database.
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About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments