Incarceration Data: Uses, Benefits, and Considerations for CRAs
My name is Paul Disney, and I am the Director of Product Management for the Insights product suite at Appriss Safety.
Appriss Safety is the developer of the Appriss Insights Platform, the nation’s most comprehensive source of incarceration, justice, and risk intelligence data. We help law enforcement, government agencies, and consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) make better-informed decisions for early response to people-driven fraud and risk.
As the Director of Product Management, I lead the Appriss Insights Product Team. My team serves as liaison between our customers and Appriss’ Development Team. We evaluate customer feedback, industry trends, and emerging technology to guide the development of innovative, useful products. In short, we turn product-related ideas into reality.
One of my primary responsibilities is to develop, oversee, and enhance our Insights products. These products are founded upon Appriss’ proprietary incarceration database, which is made up of over 2,000 direct interfaces with 80% of U.S. jails and DOC facilities. Simply stated, thanks to this proprietary database we know—in real time—when someone is booked into the majority of prisons nationwide. And candidly, this data asset has revolutionized how organizations identify and address fraud and risk.
What is Incarceration Data?
This may seem obvious, but there are a lot of misconceptions out there regarding what this data truly represents and what Appriss captures. Incarceration data is synonymous with “booking record.” If John S. is arrested for attempted burglary, a law enforcement official will bring him to an incarceration facility (i.e., jail, prison, detention center) where relevant information is entered into a computer system by facility staff. This record of “booking” is what Appriss captures and retains through its direct interfaces with jail management systems (JMS) across the country. These data feeds update as frequently as every 15 minutes to ensure the most current information.
Where Else Can You Find Incarceration Data?
Although Appriss is the most comprehensive and timely source of incarceration data, other sources do exist—but not many. While there are a patchwork of resources available that could be used to procure and monitor incarceration data, they are generally not available to the public, not expansive enough to be considered reliable, and they capture this data well after the incarceration has taken place.
These alternative incarceration data sources provide varying levels of access to limited incarceration data points.
CRAs that currently offer incarceration data tend to rely on a national-criminal (“nat-crim”) file or database to identify incarceration events. However, most are not able to offer this data due to the sheer difficulty of its procurement. If it is included in a nat-crim file, it is most likely going to be stale and inconsistent—probably sourced via public website scraping or through bulk purchase from certain agencies that allow it.
Nat-crim files are beneficial because they provide pointers into potential criminal activity in locations not tied to a person’s residence or work. However, nat-crim files aren’t as comprehensive as their name suggests. They typically hold only about 10% of the existing criminal data in the United States.
Why is Our Incarceration Data Important to CRAs?
Primarily, timing. The length of time between initial booking and final adjudication can be significant—ranging from weeks, to months—even years. This impacts both pre-hire and post-hire services that CRAs offer their customers.
You run a background check on Jane M., who has applied to drive a bus for her local school system. One week prior, Jane had been pulled over, arrested, and booked on DUI charges. She posted bail the next day and is awaiting her court date next month. Because the case had not been adjudicated at the time of her screen, Jane’s DUI will go untraced, and she will go on to be hired as a school bus driver.
You have been hired to conduct post-hire periodic re-screens on a customer whose workforce primarily consists of home health aides. A current employee, Scott A., was arrested, booked, and charged with assault two months ago. He was able to post bail and is going through court proceedings. He also happens to be going through a messy divorce. Scott, who is stressed, frustrated, angry, and with a documented history of violence, will continue to go into vulnerable people’s homes without his employer knowing his full risk profile. Very likely, the earliest you would know of Scott’s criminal activities is at the time of the re-screen—and even that assumes the criminal case has been fully adjudicated.
*There is an additional risk in this scenario beyond lacking the data necessary to identify potential threats. This example also lacked a true continuous monitoring system, in which an employer is alerted in real time upon an employee’s incarceration. Continuous monitoring of employees can mitigate what could become a very dangerous and tragic situation. Periodic re-screens, even when inclusive of incarceration information, are simply not frequent enough to avoid most post-hire insider threat events.
Knowing Sooner Matters
Beyond the Data
Nationwide incarceration data is a critical asset for CRAs when conducting pre- or post-hire screening/monitoring services for their clients. But the data is nothing without a timely and reliable means of delivery. Here is where Appriss’ direct interfaces with jail management systems add immense value. Because we connect with thousands of JMSs, we receive data at the point of origin, standardize it, and aggregate it into a single source. This is huge.
In pre-hire screens, being able to provide this information on the front end (versus waiting for adjudication) gives CRAs the opportunity to use an incarceration event as a “pointer”—to identify additional places where a job candidate has interacted with the criminal justice system. From there, the CRA can conduct a court search for conviction information in these newly identified jurisdictions.
Post-hire, having access to nationwide, real-time incarceration data gives CRAs and employers the opportunity to more fully understand the comprehensive, current risk profile of their organization and informs follow-up research and investigation into the event to determine the employee’s future employment status.
Key Compliance Considerations for Implementation
One of the main challenges for employers is understanding federal and local regulations surrounding data use, and then establishing a sound procedural framework for your screening/monitoring system. In both pre- and post-hire context, implementing industry best practices is crucial.
Once policies are implemented and a program is established, then employers are able to answer the question: I received an alert, now what do I do with it?
When an alert is received, CRAs should evaluate: 1.) the severity of the incident, 2.) how long ago it occurred, and 3.) how it could impact one’s job function (i.e., are you in a regulated industry where this particular offense bars you from hiring or continuing to employ this person?).
Incarceration data—specifically real time, nationwide incarceration data—is a critical asset within the background screening industry. Facilitating early identification and intervention, it keeps companies safer from fraud, theft, and reputational damage—all of which grossly affect their bottom line. But most importantly, it brings a sense of security and keeps employees, customers, and communities safer.