Many employers and volunteer organizations are relying on something they refer to as a “National Sex Offender Database” as a significant part of their criminal record background check. Typically, they don’t understand where the information comes from or the significant limitations associated with it.
The Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW), maintained by the US Department of Justice, provides a way to quickly search the public sex offender websites of the 50 states and other territories. On the NSOPW website, it is referred to as the “National Sex Offender Quick Search.” This is not a database of sex offenders and the Department of Justice doesn’t house this information. They just built this website that searches all the state’s public sex offender websites.
The biggest problem with relying on NSOPW is that most criminal offenses, even violent ones, do not require sex offender registration. Less than 1% of the individuals with criminal histories on whom we deliver reports are registered sex offenders. Assault, robbery, theft, drug trafficking, weapons crimes, DWI and most other offenses don’t require sex offender registration.
In fact, Imperative often sees offenses that start out as sex offenses but are pled down to non-sex offenses. For instance, we’ve seen statutory rape pled down to simple assault or contributing to the delinquency of a minor – no sex offender registration required.
The second problem is that every state has different requirements about what offenses require sex offender registration. So an offense requiring registration in Texas might not in another state. This makes it challenging to maintain the same standard of care regardless of where the individual has lived.
Beyond that, not all registered sex offenders get listed on these public websites. Again, different states have different standards about which registrations are published on their websites.
States have different standards about what information they publish, as well. Identity theft fears have led some states to redact the registrants’ dates of birth or other identifying information. Again, this can make it difficult to determine if the registrant is the subject being researched.
For those clients who request sex offender searches, Imperative uses NSOPW to identify possible offenses and then we confirm the information with the originating county. This often means chasing down false leads – records ultimately determined not to be associated with the person on whom the background check is being conducted.
However, we find far more cases by actually searching the live local court records in each jurisdiction associated with the individual in the last ten years at a minimum.
Some background check companies sell a product they call the “National Sex Offender Database,” an impressive title for a fairly shallow product. This is not the NSOPW. Basically, they are buying the sex offender registries from the states or screen-scraping the information from the states’ websites.
However, many states will not make their entire sex offender registry available for inclusion in privately-maintained databases and the information received from those who do is subject to the limitations described above.
Imperative’s multi-jurisdictional criminal records database (what other screening companies call a “national” or “nationwide” search) includes the sex offender registries of those states and jurisdictions that will provide the information for inclusion in a private database. However, like all criminal record databases, this information is incomplete and sometimes incorrect or out of date. For this reason, we always verify the information found with our multi-jurisdictional criminal records database search with the originating county to be sure that our clients receive only the most reliable and up-to-date information available.
Also, because we know that the available criminal record databases miss about half of the records that we find searching the live records of the courts, we will not sell the database as a stand-alone product.
As always, if you have any questions about sex offender registries, criminal records, or your company’s own screening practices, please don’t hesitate to contact me.