Criminal records describe offenses and offenders and include
offender fingerprint identification and notations of arrest
and subsequent dispositions. Accurate, timely and complete criminal
history record information enables States to immediately identify
persons who are prohibited from firearm purchase or are ineligible
to hold positions of responsibility involving children, the
elderly, or the disabled; enables criminal justice agencies
to make decisions on pretrial release, career criminal charging,
determinate sentencing, and correctional assignments; is critical
to assist law enforcement in criminal investigations and decision
making; and, is required for background checks for national
security, employment, licensing and related economic purposes,
as required under recent legislation.
All States have established a criminal record repository which
maintains criminal records and identification data and responds
to law enforcement inquiries and inquiries for other purposes
such as background checks and national security. Criminal records
include data provided by all components of the criminal justice
system: law enforcement, prosecution, courts and corrections.
Automated interfaces with courts and prosecutors are critical
to ensuring that all criminal records include dispositions at
each stage of the criminal process. Criminal records include
records of protection orders, sex offender registries, and other
records of contacts with the justice system.
The FBI administers national systems which permit interstate
access to criminal records maintained in all 50 States. These
• NICS Index
• National Crime Information Center (NCIC)
• Interstate Identification Index (III)
• National Protection Order File
• National Sex Offender Registry
• Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System
Through the National Criminal History Improvement Program (NCHIP),
BJS provides grants and technical assistance to the States and
localities to improve the quality, timeliness, and immediate
accessibility of criminal history records and related information.
For more information, see the National Criminal History Improvement
Records developed for statistical purposes describe and classify
each criminal incident and include data on offender characteristics,
relationships between the offender and the victim, and offense
impact. Statistical data are extracted from operational records
using uniform criteria for classification and collection. Detailed
statistical data permit localities to identify problem areas
and to allocate manpower and limited financial resources in
an efficient and effective manner. The FBI administers the National
Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS). In 2001, BJS awarded
funds to improve NIBRS participation. (See the NIBRS Improvement
Program page for information about this program.)
State Criminal Justice Statistics Programs
BJS has long supported the establishment and operation of Statistical
Analysis Centers (SACs) in the States and territories to collect,
analyze, and report statistics on crime and justice to Federal,
State, and local levels of government, and to share state-level
information nationally. The information produced by SACs and
their involvement in criminal justice projects has been and
will continue to be critical to State, local, and Federal criminal
justice agencies and community organizations as they develop
programs and policies related to crime, illegal drugs, services
to victims, and the administration of justice.
The State Justice Statistics Program (SJS) is designed to maintain
and enhance each State's capacity to address criminal justice
issues through the collection and analysis of data. The SJS
Program provides limited funds to each State to coordinate statistical
activities within the State, conduct research as needed to estimate
impacts of legislative and policy changes, and serve a liaison
role in assisting BJS to gather data from respondent agencies
within their States.
For more information about current funding opportunities under
the SJS Program, see the Funding page.
Glossary of terms
Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS):
An automated system for searching fingerprint files and transmitting
fingerprint images. AFIS computer equipment can scan fingerprint
impressions (or utilize electronically transmitted fingerprint
images) and automatically extract and digitize ridge details
and other identifying characteristics in sufficient detail to
enable the computer's searching and matching components to distinguish
a single fingerprint from thousands or even millions of fingerprints
previously scanned and stored in digital form in the computer's
memory. The process eliminates the manual searching of fingerprint
files and increases the speed and accuracy of ten-print processing
(arrest fingerprint cards and noncriminal justice applicant
fingerprint cards). AFIS equipment also can be used to identify
individuals from "latent" (crime scene) fingerprints,
with even fragmentary prints of single fingers in some cases.
Digital fingerprint images generated by AFIS equipment can be
transmitted electronically to remote sites, eliminating the
necessity of mailing fingerprint cards and providing remote
access to AFIS fingerprint files.
The database (or the agency housing the database) that maintains
criminal history records on all State offenders. Records include
fingerprint files and files containing identification segments
and notations of arrests and dispositions. The central repository
is generally responsible for State-level identification of arrestees,
and commonly serves as the central control terminal for contact
with FBI record systems. Inquiries from local agencies for a
national record check (for criminal justice or firearm check
purposes) are routed to the FBI via the central repository.
Although usually housed in the Department of Public Safety,
the central repository may be maintained in some States by the
State Police or some other State agency.
Criminal Justice Information Services Advisory Policy
Successor to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) APB,
the CJIS APB is comprised of 30 criminal justice officials who
provide policy input to guide the Federal Bureau of Investigation
(FBI) in the administration of its CJIS Division. The CJIS Division
administers the NCIC, the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program,
the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS),
and other information system programs determined by the FBI
director to have some relationship with these programs.
Statistical Analysis Center (SAC):
Statistical Analysis Centers (SACs) are units or agencies at
the State government level that use operational, management,
and research information from all components of the criminal
justice system to conduct objective analyses of statewide and
systemwide policy issues. There are currently SACs in 53 States
and territories. The SACs vary in their placement within the
State government structures. Some are within a criminal justice
or general State planning or coordinating agency; some are part
of a governor's advisory staff; and others are located in a
line agency such as the State police, attorney general's office,
or department of corrections. There are several housed in universities.
Criminal History Record Information (CHRI) or Criminal
History Record Information System:
A record (or the system maintaining such records) that includes
individual identifiers and describes an individual's arrests
and subsequent dispositions. Criminal history records do not
include intelligence or investigative data or sociological data
such as drug use history. CHRI systems usually include information
on juveniles if they are tried as adults in criminal courts.
Most, however, do not include data describing involvement of
an individual in the juvenile justice system. All data in CHRI
systems are usually backed by fingerprints of the record subjects
to provide positive identification. State legislation varies
concerning disclosure of criminal history records for noncriminal
The extent to which criminal history records are complete, accurate
and timely. In addition, accessibility sometimes is considered
a data quality factor. The key concern in data quality is the
completeness of records and the extent to which records include
dispositions as well as arrest and charge information. Other
concerns include the timeliness of data reporting to State and
Federal repositories, the timeliness of data entry by the repositories,
the readability of criminal history records and the ability
to have access to the records when necessary.
Felony or Serious Misdemeanor:
The category of offenses for which fingerprints and criminal
history information are accepted by the FBI and entered in the
Bureau's files, including the III system. Serious misdemeanor
is defined to exclude certain minor offenses, such as drunkenness
or minor traffic offenses.
Interstate Identification Index (III):
An "index-pointer" system for the interstate exchange
of criminal history records. Under III, the FBI maintains an
identification index to persons arrested for felonies or serious
misdemeanors under State or Federal law. The index includes
identification information, (such as name, date of birth, race,
and sex), FBI Numbers and State Identification Numbers (SID)
from each State holding information about an individual. Search
inquiries from criminal justice agencies nationwide are transmitted
automatically via State telecommunications networks and the
FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) telecommunications
lines. Searches are made on the basis of name and other identifiers.
The process is entirely automated and takes approximately five
seconds to complete. If a hit is made against the Index, record
requests are made using the SID or FBI Number, and data are
automatically retrieved from each repository holding records
on the individual and forwarded to the requesting agency.
Participation requires that the State maintain an automated
criminal history record system capable of interfacing with the
III system and capable of responding automatically to all interstate
and Federal/State record requests.
Juvenile Justice Records:
Official records of juvenile justice adjudications. Most adult
criminal history record systems do not accept such records,
which are frequently not supported by fingerprints and which
usually are confidential under State law. Pursuant to an order
dated July 15, 1992, the FBI now accepts, and will disseminate,
juvenile records on the same basis as adult records. States,
however, are not required to submit such records to the FBI.
Livescan and Cardscan:
Livescans are automated devices for generating and transmitting
digitized fingerprint images. Livescan devices capture fingerprint
images directly from subjects' fingers, which are rolled onto
glass scanning plates. Cardscan devices scan and digitize standard
inked fingerprint cards and can transmit electronic images with
related textual data to remote sites for printout or direct
Master Name Index (MNI):
A subject identification index maintained by criminal history
record repositories that includes names and other identifiers
for each person about whom a record is held in the systems.
As of 1999, only one State did not have at least a partially
automated MNI; almost all States (45) had fully automated MNIs.
The automated name index is the key to rapidly identifying persons
who have criminal records for such purposes as presale firearm
checks, criminal investigations or bailsetting. MNIs may include
"felony flags," which indicate whether record subjects
have arrests or convictions for felony offenses.
The NICS Index contains records provided by State and federal
agencies about persons prohibited from receiving firearms under
federal law. All records in the NICS Index are disqualifying
records and will prohibit the sale of a firearm. Most records
in the NICS Index are obtained from federal agencies. However,
authorized local and State law enforcement agencies may voluntarily
contribute records to the NICS Index.
National Crime Information Center (NCIC):
An automated database of criminal justice and justice-related
records maintained by the FBI. The database includes the "hot
files" of wanted and missing persons, stolen vehicles and
identifiable stolen property, including firearms. Access to
NCIC files is through central control terminal operators in
each State that are connected to NCIC via dedicated telecommunications
lines maintained by the FBI. Local agencies and officers on
the beat can access the State control terminal via the State
law enforcement network. Inquiries are based on name and other
nonfingerprint identification. Most criminal history inquiries
of the III system are made via the NCIC telecommunications system.
NCIC data may be provided only for criminal justice and other
specifically authorized purposes. For criminal history searches,
this includes criminal justice employment, employment by Federally
chartered or insured banking institutions or securities firms,
and use by State and local governments for purposes of employment
and licensing pursuant to a State statute approved by the U.S.
Attorney General. Inquiries regarding presale firearm checks
are included as criminal justice uses.
National Crime Prevention and Privacy Compact:
An interstate and Federal/State compact which establishes formal
procedures and governance structures for the use of the Interstate
Identification Index (III). It is designed to facilitate the
exchange of criminal history data among States for noncriminal
justice purposes and to eliminate the need for the FBI to maintain
duplicate data about State offenders. Under the compact, the
operation of this system is overseen by a policymaking council
comprised of Federal and State officials. The key concept underlying
the compact is agreement among all signatory States that all
criminal history information (except sealed records) will be
provided in response to noncriminal justice requests from another
State - regardless of whether the information being requested
would be permitted to be disseminated for a similar noncriminal
justice purpose within the State holding the data. The compact
was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President
in October 1998. The compact became effective in April 1999,
following ratification by two State legislatures, Montana on
April 8, 1999 and Georgia on April 28, 1999. To date, 25 additional
States have entered into the compact: Nevada (May 1999); Florida
(June 1999); Colorado (March 2000); Iowa (April 2000); Connecticut
(June 2000); South Carolina (June 2000); Arkansas (February
2001); Kansas (April 2001); Alaska (May 2001); Oklahoma (May
2001); Maine (June 2001); New Jersey (January 2002); Minnesota
(March 2002); Arizona (April 2002); Tennessee (June 2003), North
Carolina (June 2003); New Hampshire (June 2003); Missouri (July
2003); Ohio (January 2004); Wyoming (February 2005); Idaho (March
2005), Maryland (May 2005); Oregon (July 2005); West Virginia
(April 2006); and Hawaii (May 2006).
National Fingerprint File (NFF):
A system and procedures designed as a component of the III system,
which, when fully implemented, would establish a totally decentralized
system for the interstate exchange of criminal history records.
The NFF will contain fingerprints of Federal offenders and a
single set of fingerprints on State offenders from each State
in which an offender has been arrested for a felony or a serious
misdemeanor. Under the NFF concept, States will forward only
the first-arrest fingerprints of an individual to the FBI accompanied
by other identification data such as name and date of birth.
Fingerprints for subsequent arrests would not be forwarded.
Disposition data on the individual would also be retained at
the State repository and would not be forwarded to the FBI.
Upon receipt of the first-arrest fingerprint cards (or electronic
images), the FBI will enter the individual's fingerprint impressions
in the NFF and will enter the person's name and identifiers
in the III, together with an FBI Number and a State Identification
(SID) Number for each State maintaining a record on the individual.
Charge and disposition information on State offenders will be
maintained only at the State level, and State repositories will
be required to respond to all authorized record requests concerning
these individuals for both criminal justice and noncriminal
justice purposes. States would have to release all data on record
subjects for noncriminal justice inquiries regardless of whether
the data could be released for similar purposes within the State.
The NFF has been implemented in eight States: Colorado, Florida,
New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Montana, and Kansas.
National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS):
An automated system operated by the FBI established in accordance
with the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act to check the
eligibility of prospective gun purchasers.
National Protection Order File:
The NCIC Protection Order File contains court orders that are
issued to help law enforcement prevent acts of domestic violence
against a person or to prevent a person from stalking, intimidating,
or harassing another person. Orders are issued by both civil
and criminal state courts.
National Sex Offender Registry:
The NCIC Convicted Sexual Offender Registry File is designed
to help law enforcement agencies keep track of convicted sex
offenders released into the community. The file contains records
of persons: convicted of a criminal offense against a minor;
convicted of a sexually violent offense; or who are sexually
Identification of an individual using biometric characteristics
that are unique and not subject to alteration. In present usage,
the term refers to identification by fingerprints but may also
include identification by retinal images, voiceprints or other
techniques. Positive identification is to be distinguished from
identification using name, sex, date of birth, or other personal
identifiers as shown on a document subject to alteration or
counterfeit such as a birth certificate, Social Security card
or driver's license. Because individuals can have identical
or similar names, ages, etc., identifications based on such
characteristics are not reliable.