Wed., October 16, 2013 6:27pm (EDT)

Criminal Records Get New Scrutiny
By Claire Simms
Updated: 10 months ago

ATLANTA  —  
A group of Georgia lawmakers is working to overhaul how the state keeps and shares criminal records. (Photo by Claire Simms)
A group of Georgia lawmakers is working to overhaul how the state keeps and shares criminal records. (Photo by Claire Simms)
A group of Georgia lawmakers is working to overhaul how the state keeps and shares criminal records.

“Georgia has one of the, in my opinion, most antiquated laws relating to record restriction of criminal records in the country,” said state Senator Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus).

McKoon has been leading the Senate’s study committee on expungement reform. The committee formed as part of a resolution passed during the 2013 legislative session. At issue is how and when the state removes offenses from someone’s public criminal record if he or she was falsely accused, or has served his or her sentence.

“As a conservative I believe once somebody has paid their debt to society for a crime they’ve committed--they’ve been punished--then what I want that person to do is climb the economic ladder of success, become a productive citizen, pay taxes like all of us do and not go back to a life of crime,” McKoon explained. “[It’s] hard to do that if we place these barriers to employment.”

One of the problems with the current system, according to Marissa Dodson, policy director for the Georgia Justice Project, is that businesses often use private background check companies, which may not have all the information.

“There are some problems with our official record keeping and the ways that we handle records and their availability to private companies who are then selling them to employers and other decision makers,” explained Dodson. “Oftentimes the records are inaccurate, incomplete.”

“There’s really no regulation. There’s no way to know if that data is accurate,” agreed McKoon. “And so perhaps, one of the things we can kind of hone in on is a way to address that issue of at least making sure that the information employers are getting in these background checks are accurate.”

One obstacle is that law enforcement officers, court clerks and prosecutors all use different software systems to process information about individual cases. One idea lawmakers are considering is to streamline the systems by having every agency use the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s GCIC or Georgia Crime Information Center, but that would likely come with a hefty price tag.

“I think we need to make the investment necessary to have an accurate system. What I will say is making them kind of the go-to agency for background checks to me, even today, makes the most sense,” said McKoon.

The study committee will meet again in early November and will draft a report about the issue this year.