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Data Quality of Criminal History Records

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 1985
This report examines the nature and extent of the data quality problem in criminal history records and evaluates strategies used to improve data quality.

This 1984 study reviewed all literature on the accuracy and completeness of criminal history record information published in the United States in the last 20 years. It also reviewed all relevant case law over the last 20 years as well as State statutes and regulations on the handling of criminal history record information. A conference attended by 31 criminal history record experts examined the nature of the data quality problem and the efficacy of various strategies for improving data quality. The study found that although data inaccuracy is a significant problem, record incompleteness is the more serious problem; particularly, disposition reporting rates are apparently too low and reporting too slow. There is also a wide disparity in the quality of criminal history records among State repositories and among agencies within each State. Although the States have legislative and regulatory standards for data quality, the standards are not specific, and the enforcement measures are not creditable. Court review of complaints by persons with incomplete records is apparently not a realistic remedy. Effective strategies to improve data quality include prioritizing data quality as an agency commitment; setting data entry, maintenance, and dissemination standards; increasing funding; and improving relationships between repositories and courts. Automation of records is a principle means of improving data quality. The report concludes with an agenda for future action. The appendix charts elements of State statutes and regulations pertaining to data quality standards. A total of 138 footnotes are provided.

Date Published: December 1, 1985