Background screening in schools certainly has its challenges; however, it's an important part of keeping your schools safe. So if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right.
Because not all criminal background checks are created equal, your methodology and sources may be exposing your district to risk. To ensure your district engages in its due diligence in screening employees and volunteers, you need to first understand how background checks are performed and why some methods may be more reliable than others.
This article will help educate Alabama school districts on background checks and to define key strategies for a successful program.
How Alabama Currently Screens
Alabama Code currently mandates fingerprinting for employees under § 16-22A-2. Alabama Code does not currently mandate the requirement of methodology regarding screening volunteers.
Based on conversations with administrators and research into school district policies, Alabama schools most likely screen in these ways:
For employees, most districts do not supplement fingerprinting with any type of commercial grade screen.
For volunteers, most districts screen in this way:
- Statewide check through the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center (ACJIC)
- Fingerprinting in the same method as employees
Several districts in Alabama do not screen volunteers at all.
Why Fingerprinting Comes Up Short
The FBI database used for employment and volunteer screening contains one tenth the records of a commercial database (40 million vs. 450 million) with the majority of records lacking final dispositions.
The FBI database depends on each state to send it information regarding arrests and convictions, and each state generally depends on every jurisdiction or county to send it records. Arrests and dispositions must be "matched" successfully as well. Unfortunately, because of the inconsistency and backlogs, this just doesn't happen.
FBI Database Shortcomings
» Even less records than the “national” database
» Over 50% of records are missing final disposition
» Not all states or counties report to the FBI database
» The FBI itself warns against using it as a sole source
» Only contains fingerprint related offenses which excludes an arrest where the subject was not fingerprinted (includes felonies and misdemeanors)
Why an Alabama Statewide Search is Risky
Many districts in Alabama perform a statewide search of the ACJIC's database. Typically searches performed on just a statewide basis are name based. If a district performs a full FBI background check then the search is fingerprint based.
Regardless of the method used to query the state database (name based or fingerprint), there are many risks involved with using a state only check.
The database contains criminal records from Alabama ONLY. According to Alabama Code 41-9, fingerprint related arrests and their matching dispositions are to be indexed by the ACJIC. The ACJIC must receive all arrest and disposition information from each jurisdiction. It receives data only and does not gather it. Many times arrests do not include a fingerprint. This could include both felonies and misdemeanors for crimes such as theft, assault, DWI or drug possession. Without a fingerprint, it is unlikely an arrest would be indexed by the ACJIC.
The U.S. Justice Department reported that only 34% of all arrests have final disposition! Why does this matter? Making hiring decisions based solely on arrest records could be considered discriminatory by the EEOC. Without the final disposition, you won't know if the verdict was guilty or the case dismissed.
Another concern with name based checks is AKAs and name variation. It is estimated that up to 40% of the U.S. population has at least one AKA. If you are only searching the name provided by the applicant and that applicant committed a crime under another name, it will not show up. This type of name based check also wouldn't account for name variation.
Not all criminal offenses that have occurred in Alabama are part of the database, and even if the arrest is found, the disposition may be missing.
Other Concerns Regarding State Only Check
- 28 counties in Alabama border other states.
- Performing a statewide check on an individual who has been a resident for a short amount of time isn't very reliable.
Now that we have defined the weaknesses in other search methodologies, what's a better way to screen? A professional grade screen includes:
Address History Trace (AHT): This is a report revealing various names, DOBs and addresses associated with a specific Social Security number. An AHT should go back at least seven years.
Why it's important: Because an AHT creates a profile of an individual's residence history; this profile determines what jurisdictions should be searched.
County Searches: Based on the profile created from the AHT, each jurisdiction/county identified should be searched.
Why it's important: Because county courts are considered the official court of record because most cases are filed and maintained here, meaning the most complete and accurate information is generally located at the county level.
Criminal Record Database: A database search of over 450 million criminal records regularly collected from over 2,600 public and proprietary sources.
Why it's important: Because supplementing a county search with databases casts a wider net and helps find more records.
National Sex Offender Search: A comprehensive, real-time search of registered sex offender registries in all 50 states plus D.C., U.S. territories and tribal registries.
Why It's important: Because searching every available sex offender registry in real-time provides maximum protection from registered sex offenders gaining access to your students.
AKAs: can include maiden names, nicknames or aliases.
Why It's important: Because everyone doesn't always use the same name! And not every applicant will provide all AKAs. Having as many possible names to search increases your chances of finding records that may have otherwise been missed.
Other Reasons You'll Love a Professional Grade Screen
Not only is a professional grade screen much more comprehensive than a statewide, FBI or database only search, it has many more benefits:
- Online platforms for applicant entry: applicants can apply from the comfort of their home on a secure site and pay for the screen all at one time.
- Professional grade screens start at $15 and contain much more information than other methodologies, which cost the same or more.
- Manages who has been screened and when so you don't have to keep extra spreadsheets or lists.
- Credential ID cards are available as a visual identifier that a volunteer has been screened.
- Zero paper: no stacks of paperwork or data entry for your staff.
- Compliance help: professional screens provide legal notifications to anyone denied and allow an applicant to dispute any information directly with the screening firm.
- Professional grade screens discover what the applicant may not divulge, including aliases, addresses and other pertinent information.
- Delivers dispositions for every arrest as long as they are available (some arrests may still be pending but are reportable).
Want to learn more about how BIB can offer you a better way to background check? Contact us today for a demo, pricing or simply to ask a question. We're here for you, and we're committed to helping you protect what matters.
About BIB: BIB offers background screening with integrity. We screen, test and verify the backgrounds of your employees and volunteers. Clients love our responsive service and how we accelerate their speed to hire while reducing their costs. With BIB, you get reliable results and easy technology. We're good at what matters and have been since 1995. BIB is a founding member of NAPBS and a member of SHRM, AASPA, NACBA, ASA and NRPA.
About Secure Volunteer: Secure Volunteer is a web based, turnkey platform for screening volunteers. Volunteers enter their own data, removing paper forms from the process. Secure Volunteer manages who has been screened and when, facilitates the approval process, provides a professional grade screen and supplies approved volunteers with ID cards. With Secure Volunteer, organizations screen better and quicker without sacrificing quality or breaking their budgets.
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