Sunday, July 09, 2006

Bad Checks: DPS criminal background database corrupt

Kafka understood where we were headed - today every one of us is just a couple of faulty keystrokes away from becoming a modern Joseph K.

Kuff, the Houston Press' Keith Plocek has an excellent article in its July 6 issue about the Texas Department of Public Safety's crappy criminal background check database you can search for $3 bucks on the web - huge chunks of data are missing and what's in there is unaudited, not to mention frequently incomplete or erroneous. I encourage you to read the whole thing. Plocek called me for the story because of a blog post I wrote in February, and Kuff points out I was afforded a couple of pithy quotes in the piece:
"The database is corrupt and a piece of garbage," says Scott Henson, a political consultant in Austin. "The thing has just turned into its own animal."


"People need to be able to get jobs at some point," says Scott Henson, whose blog, Grits for Breakfast, deals exclusively with the Texas criminal justice system. "Would you prefer they robbed your house?"

Using the public information act, Plocek found terrific case studies where the crappy database falsely accused people who shouldn't have been excluded from jobs while failing to identify those who might pose a real danger. The example in his lede drives home the point: A girls softball coach vetting potential assistant coaches finds a conviction on one applicant and none on another. Problem is, the "conviction" was erroneously reported in DPS' database, while the "clean" applicant had earlier received prbation for stealing a video camera and using it to film adolescent girls through windows.

Amazing - in this case, using DPS' background check system led to a decision that arguably made these girls less safe.

Many counties report less than half their convictions to DPS - they've been required by law to do it since 1993, but no resources are available to support this unfunded mandate. There's no auditing system in place for catching errors - whatever counties report is what's in the database with no adjustments. And in many instances, folks are included who shouldn't be there at all. Cases ending in deferred adjudication, for example, which should result in clearing a defendant's record, are reported side-by-side along with regular convictions.

To make matters worse, this bad info then gets purchased by commercial databrokers, and once the information makes it to that arena, it's nearly impossible to 100% correct.

This scenario begs for use of the word "boondoggle." DPS' database is
not fulfilling the purpose it's designed for, causing problems no one ever intended, and costing state and county taxpayers a small fortune for a bad product. Regular readers know I think WAY too many jobs are restricted for ex-cons, anyway, but the problem gets worse with this kind of Kafka-esque record-keeping system. They should spend what it takes to fix it or scrap it, but it's doing as much harm as good right now.


I.oana said...

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Anonymous said...

This is just a symptom of the disease; the whole agency is considered a joke (among law enforcment agencies).
They really got a handle on those rouge drug task forces, doidn't they....
All they do is write speeding tickets

blanfear said...

I agree! The article Keith wrote is excellent. Articles like this are what the public need to hear.

Oh yes indeed let us now touch base of deferred adjudication. I will try tp have this published in as many papers as possible.

Deferred Adjudication a non-conviction right? WRONG!

You signed the contract; you where told it would NOT show on your record, in other word a piece of cake. You have gone above and beyond to prove you have learned from your mistake and deserve the second chance you were promised.

Unfortunately your deferred adjudication records have been sold to every background check agency out there. You are being denied employment, apartment housing, car insurance, state license’s you are required to have for your profession.

What happens if you are falsely accused of a crime? You can’t afford a highly qualified attorney and a much needed private investigator, so now you are forced to go with a court appointed attorney. Think about this; what crimes could you be falsely accused of? Domestic violence, child abuse, and rape (any sex crime in general such as statutory rape, which is now assault of a child), (you could be falsely accused of molesting your own child!). It does not take a rocket scientist to tell us that there are evil, vicious criminals out there. Nobody should suffer at the hands of these monsters, but what on earth can you do if you are falsely accused or strictly misidentified? Not a darn thing! You will end up settling for a plea bargain because of the possible imprisonment of up to 20 years. The way our laws are written now, just an accusation alone will nail you to the wall forever! No sign of physical evidence has to be present for you to be arrested. The accusation alone is enough by law to arrest you.

What happens now? What happens if you have no evidence to prove you did not commit this crime? You will need subpoenaed phone logs, credit card statements, dated and signed receipts, and witnesses. What happens when you have none of this? You are forced into plea bargaining! The Violence Against Women Act that was signed and reinforced back in January of this year is mind boggling to say the least. Take for instance; you are going through a divorce. Did you know all your spouse has to do is say you caused the bruise on her leg, or that you raped her and you WILL be arrested? Let’s put this very bluntly: For example, it is a shocker to discover that acts don't have to be violent to be punished under the definition of domestic violence. Name-calling, put-downs, shouting, negative looks or gestures, ignoring opinions, or constant criticizing can all be legally labeled domestic violence. VAWA advocates assert that domestic violence is a crime, yet family courts often adjudicate domestic violence as a civil (not a criminal) matter. This enables courts to deny the accused all Bill of Rights and due process protections which are granted to the most heinous of criminals.

How scary is that?! When an innocent person, a person of false accusations no longer stands a prayer in our courts, there has to be some major changes. Deferred Adjudication is the only plea bargain out there if you are accused of one these heinous crimes. This law is a non-conviction. Yes you will be put on probation and once you complete the probation period that was given to you, your case is dismissed, no finding of guilt. There is NO expunction law for deferred adjudication. In 2003 a non-disclosure law was passed, along with the forming of what is now known as the “EXCLUSION LIST”. If you are ever accused of domestic violence, child abuse, or any sex crime (which includes streaking, popping a bra strap, touching some one outside their clothing, urinating on the side of a road) you will fall lock stock and barrel under this list. Reminder: Any incidents under a sex crime that I listed above can and most likely will get you registered as a sex offender. This is no joke! What is happening to our due process of law, (our right to a fair trial)? Are our civil rights being stripped right out from under us? You better believe they are, and it is my only hope to reach out to our public in general warning anyone and everyone of what you will be faced with in our criminal court system if you are arrested for anything!

How many high school and college students have taken this plea, for making one mistake? How many of these students are learning or will be learning in the near future that years of hard work, years of hard earned money could be and are being washed down the drain due to background checks? Yes the non-disclosure can help many to an extent, many agencies are exempted from this non-disclosure law such as all state and government agencies, school districts, hospitals, licensing agencies, and the list goes on.

Remember we all make mistakes, unfortunately our tough on crime laws, and zero tolerance policies are nailing many innocent, and many first time offenders to the wall. We all deserve a second chance; the deferred adjudication law was supposed to do that. Single crime incidences are coming back to haunt many since background checks have become mandatory. I am talking people losing a job they have held for years, and top that off with never have another brush with the law since there first incident. The only way to fix this problem is to have an expunction law enacted. Our very own President gave a speech back in 2004 and clearly stated, “We are the land of second chances.”

Closing thoughts, or thoughts to ponder on: Are we believers in second chances?

Beverly Blaha Lanfear

“Texas Association for Justice and Legal Reform”

FYI: The Texas DPS released statistics in February of 2005 to the Legislative Budget Board. The DPS estimated that 1.92 million Texans have been placed on community supervision, otherwise known as Deferred Adjudication.

Anonymous said...

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