A look at the problem with reporting the final disposition of a criminal record from the initial arrest to conviction, sentencing and jailing.
Those who think that getting information on a person with a criminal record is as easy as picking up a phone and making a call may find this article an eye opener. It isn’t that you can’t get the information. The problem is that part or all of the information itself may not be available or even recorded.
In 2001, states maintained criminal records for over 64 million people, but upon investigation it was determined that many of these records had reduced usefulness because the records themselves were missing important information regarding the arrest or conviction. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in conducting surveys, discovered that a large proportion of criminal records lack what is called a final disposition. It is this final disposition that indicates the final outcome of the arrest.
There is a process in place that creates a criminal history record. In this process you have the arresting agency, the prosecutor, the court, and the correctional authority. Any one of these can provide the final disposition as each arrest can end with a different disposition.
To give examples we have the following:
A person is arrested on suspicion of murder. A few days later before a trial date can be set, the real murderer is apprehended. The final disposition in this case is that the arresting agency, in most cases the police, releases the suspect. This would be the final disposition of this particular case.
Let’s take this one step further. The person is arrested for the same crime and goes to trial. In the trial the person is found not guilty. The final disposition in this case would be the court releasing the defendant.
In the case of a person who is actually convicted of a crime, the final disposition is with the correctional facility, either in recording that the person has done his time and was released on a given date, or in the case of life without parole, this is then noted.
The problem with the system, is that all of these final dispositions are recorded in different state agencies and while all the information should be contained in the person’s overall record, what is too often found is that the agency responsible for the disposition does not forward the information to the central record keeping location, in most cases the hall of records of the city or town.
In surveys that were conducted it was estimated that about 46% of state agencies did not have complete disposition records on criminal history. This is a staggering figure when you consider how many arrests there are each year. When surveyed, state agencies reported that state prosecutors only forward 86% of their dispositions to the proper agency. When asked why, their response was that it was another agency’s responsibility to forward the info.
Most of the problem with the system itself is in delays; the delay to get a speedy trial, the length of trials themselves and the time spent in correctional facilities. With all that is involved in a criminal record from arrest to sentencing it is no wonder that things fall through the cracks. Plus, prosecutors are less likely to report a misdemeanour than a felony because of the paperwork and time involved.
One thing the survey didn’t ask is what each agency felt was the solution to this problem. Maybe that was the first question they should have asked.