The Consumer Data Industry Association has long advocated for greater uniformity, standardization, centralization, and automation of court records across the U.S. Such changes, both high-tech and low, will improve the administration of justice and create faster and more reliable criminal records checks for applicants for jobs and apartments. We have also advocated for private sector checks of applicants’ backgrounds because criminal background check companies can marshal more resources than government agencies to create a more robust, timely picture of an applicant.
Exhibit A of the challenges connected to decentralized, diffuse, disconnected court systems comes from Georgia. In 2022, all 56 members of the Georgia senate sponsored S.B. 441, a bill to create uniformity to Georgia’s criminal records system.
Specifically, the legislation intends “that criminal case data be complete and accurately reported to the appropriate state data base and be accessible to state and local criminal justice agencies, employers, housing providers, victims, and all citizens.”
The legislation is based, at least in part on a January 2022 story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporting that “Georgia’s database of criminal histories is filled with information gaps that make the records unreliable for the state’s judges, employers and probation officers.” More to the point, the AJC notes that “[i]n Fulton County alone, the criminal records system has no final outcomes recorded for more than 1.5 million charges, about 40% of all the Fulton charges in the database, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found. About 19,000 charges with missing information are for serious violent felonies.”
The current state of affairs impacts the public and private sectors. For empolyers, contractors, and government agencies, “[t]he vast majority of the charges without dispositions entered have dragged on for so long without updates that potential employers and licensing agencies cannot even see the serious charges when they check a job candidate’s record.” The problem extends to the judicial system because [p]rosecutors can’t be sure they’re seeing someone’s complete record when they check the database to see if they are dealing with a repeat offender. Judges say that missing information means they can’t be confident when imposing a sentence or setting a bond for pre-trial release.”
The problem is statewide. “In 17 Georgia counties, fewer than 60% of charges have dispositions filed, according to GBI report cards for each county in the state.”
The legislation, which has passed the senate and is now in the house, finds:
(1) The state’s current system for sharing criminal case data is not adequate to provide to all appropriately interested parties, including, but not limited to, law enforcement agencies and officers, courts, crime victims and other impacted individuals, housing providers, and employers, complete criminal case data;
(2) One recent report indicates there may be as many as 7 million criminal charges without a final disposition indicated, and, of those, as many as 5.4 million criminal charges have languished for years;
(3) Georgia’s citizens and businesses are harmed by incomplete criminal case data. For example, in thousands of cases, as a result of incomplete criminal case data, citizens’ employability and housing opportunities have been negatively impacted; and
(4) A more uniform, modern system and framework for handling criminal case data will support the state in meeting its obligations to victims to keep them informed as their perpetrators make their way through the criminal justice system.
 Carrie Teegardin and Brad Schrade, Key information missing from Georgia’s criminal records database, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jan. 25, 2022.
Eric J. Ellman is Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs at the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA) in Washington, DC. He also served for eight months as Interim President and CEO of the Association. More