Bureau of Justice Statistics Funding to States to Improve Criminal Records

GAO-08-898R: Published: Jul 8, 2008. Publicly Released: Jul 8, 2008.

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Public safety concerns require that criminal history records and the systems that maintain them be accurate, complete, and accessible. Such records and systems enable local, state, and federal authorities, among other things, to identify individuals prohibited from purchasing firearms or ineligible to hold positions of responsibility involving children, the elderly, or disabled; enable criminal justice agencies to make decisions prosecuting and sentencing offenders; assist in completing background checks; and assist law enforcement officials in criminal investigations. The Department of Justice's (DOJ) Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) administers the National Criminal History Improvement Program (NCHIP). The goal of the NCHIP grant program is to improve the nation's safety and security by enhancing the quality, completeness, and accessibility of criminal history record information and by ensuring the nationwide implementation of criminal justice and noncriminal justice background check systems. This report responds to a provision in the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007, which requires us to review certain grant funding related to criminal history records. Specifically, this report provides information on grant funds awarded by BJS, updates certain information from our 2004 report on progress made in improving national criminal history records, and how DOJ monitors states' use of those funds.

BJS awarded states $241 million in NCHIP grant funding from fiscal years 2000 through 2007 under the NCHIP program, monitored the states' use of these funds through site visits, and have identified case disposition reporting by the courts and updating older technology data systems as continuing priorities. With the assistance of these grants, states continue to make progress in automating criminal history records and making them accessible nationally. For example, the most recent BJS data show that the percentage of criminal history records that are automated has increased from 79 percent in 1993 to 94 percent in 2003. BJS monitors the use of these funds by conducting approximately twelve site visits per year to monitor states' use of grant funds. BJS officials stated these sites are selected based on criteria, such as the amount of funding awarded and program performance. According to BJS, its staff visited 14 states and the District of Columbia in fiscal year 2007 to monitor states' progress and use of grant funds. Additionally, the Office of Justice Programs' Office of the Chief Financial Officer conducts financial monitoring visits to determine that grant funding is being used as intended. BJS officials told us that disposition reporting by the courts and updating older technology systems will be particularly important for states to continue making progress in automating criminal history records.

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