Each state has a central repository which maintains and disseminates criminal history information to authorized users and cooperates with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the operation of a nationwide criminal history system. In Alaska, the central repository functions are performed by the Records and Identification Division of the Department of Public Safety (DPS-R&I), using the computer and telecommunication resources of the department's Alaska Public Safety Information Network (APSIN).
The FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics have developed a set of ten recommended standards for maintaining criminal history information. Although compliance with these standards by states is voluntary, the federal government has made money available to the states for achieving such compliance. Expenditure of this money requires a prior "baseline" assessment of data quality and the development of a state plan for quality improvement.
In 1992, SEARCH, the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics, under contract with the Department of Public Safety, began an assessment review of Alaska criminal history data. (SEARCH is a non-profit organization of the states which focuses on improving the justice system through information technology.) In undertaking this assessment, SEARCH met with a working group representative of Alaska criminal justice agencies to discuss the project and elicit suggestions. The group included members from the Alaska Departments of Public Safety, Law, and Corrections, the Anchorage Police Department, the Alaska Justice Statistical Analysis Unit at the Justice Center, Alaska Judicial Council, and the Alaska Court System.
Following the meeting of the working group, SEARCH conducted several site visits to meet with criminal justice representatives and to review the content and operation of current databases. Visits were made to the Departments of Law and Public Safety in Juneau; the Department of Public Safety and the Alaska Court System in Anchorage; and the police department, Adult Probation Department, district court, Alaska State Troopers, and district attorney in Kotzebue.
In spring 1993, SEARCH released its report on Alaska criminal history data. The SEARCH assessment considers three major areas - 1) data completeness; 2) data timeliness; and 3) data accuracy - and makes recommendations for improvement of criminal history records.
The main findings concerning data completeness are:
1. Source documents for computerized criminal history (CCH) data entries, primarily arrest fingerprint cards, criminal case intake and disposition (CCID) forms, and court judgments, are often not on file. This absence stems from the data entry techniques used and also from destruction of source documents to save space or filing labor.
2. The proportion of arrests reported to CCH seems to be high, but measurement of the reporting rate is difficult; provision of a specific arrest tracking number, already implemented, will make measurement easier in the future. (Some arrests are reported by telecommunication, and the arrest fingerprint cards are not subsequently submitted.)
3. The proportion of arrest charges for which dispositions are posted is reasonably high. Explicit charge numbering and charge tracking are recommended to increase the disposition reporting rate in the near future, while reporting of data directly from case management information systems used by prosecutors, courts and corrections facilities is recommended as the long-term solution in this area.
4. Post-sentence incarceration data are not regularly reported to CCH, nor is parole/probation status. A Department of Corrections supervision status file linked to the CCH file is recommended.
The main findings concerning data timeliness are:
1. It is not possible to routinely measure reporting timeliness for arrest data because fingerprint cards are not date-stamped when they arrive at DPS-R&I. A special measurement performed on a small sample indicates reporting timeliness of 15.4 days.
2. It is not possible to routinely measure processing timeliness for arrest data because the CCH record does not contain a date-of-entry field. A special measurement on a small sample indicates processing timeliness of 15.1 days.
3. It is not possible to routinely measure reporting timeliness for decline-to-prosecute disposition data because CCID forms are not date-stamped when they arrive at DPS. A special measurement on a small sample indicates reporting timeliness of 41.8 days.
4. It is not possible to measure processing timeliness because the CCH record does not contain a date-of-entry field. A special measurement on a small sample indicates processing timeliness of 4.2 days. Receipt of disposition data directly from the prosecutor case management system is recommended in order to improve reporting timeliness and processing timeliness.
5. It is not possible to measure reporting timeliness for court disposition data because judgment forms are not date-stamped when they arrive at DPS. It also is not possible to measure processing timeliness because the CCH record does not contain a date-of-entry field. An attempt to produce a special measurement yielded no conclusive information. Receipt of court disposition data directly from the court case management system is recommended in order to improve reporting timeliness and processing timeliness.
The main findings concerning data accuracy are:
1. Arrest charges are often incorrect. This inaccuracy stems from the use of literal descriptions and the use of an inappropriate coding table for charge description. Correction of this problem will require redesign of the source documents and changes to the CCH computer program to permit statute citation use instead of National Crime Information Center (NCIC) offense codes.
2. Disposition charges, both from the prosecutor and from the court, are reasonably accurate.
3. Because there is no explicit charge number in CCH, and because prosecutors "re-use" charge numbers (e.g., the prosecutor might decline to prosecute police charge number two, then shift the former police charge number three to number two when filing), the attribution of a disposition to a certain charge is left as an exercise for the data entry clerk. These findings and their relation to the recommended national standards are summarized in Table 1.
SEARCH made the following specific recommendations regarding Alaska criminal history records:
1. Management improvements including clarification of lines of authority and responsibility for the central repository functions (Recommendation 1); provision of adequate resources to fulfill the responsibilities (Recommendation 2); provision of data by which to measure performance (Recommendation 3); and tightened relationship between CCH and the Alaska Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AAFIS) (Recommendation 4);
2. Improvements to the structure of CCH including achievement of a user consensus on the data requirements to be fulfilled by CCH (Recommendation 5); implementation of a true fingerprint-based state identification number, improvement of the recently introduced arrest tracking number and introduction of explicit charge tracking numbers (Recommendation 6); use of statute citation as the primary offense descriptor (Recommendation 7); development of a rap sheet format responsive to user needs (Recommendation 8); and revisions to the CCH computer program to enhance its usability, accuracy and auditability (Recommendation 9); and
3. Changes in the relationship between CCH and other Alaska computerized information systems, including methods to assure that CCH requirements are taken into account when other systems are improved (Recommendation 10); eventual direct reporting of arrest data and fingerprints (Recommendation 11); direct prosecutor filings and disposition reports (Recommendation 12); direct court disposition reporting (Recommendation 13); and correctional status data provided by the Department of Corrections (Recommendation 14).
The findings and recommendations presented in the SEARCH report are now being examined by the agencies affected.
This article was based on the SEARCH report, "Alaska Criminal History Record Processing - Baseline Assessment." Access to the complete report may be obtained through the Department of Public Safety, Division of Administrative Services.