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Sex Offender Registries; The Broken System.

By Katie L. Adams-Anderton

For more than two decades, states and the federal government have struggled with how to best protect the public from sexual predators. Requiring states to register and publicize the names and addresses of convicted sex offenders has been thought to help protect the public by keeping citizens informed. However, who should register, and which information can be made public has been an area of contention between the states and the federal government.

California became the first state in the United States to have a sex offender registration program in 1947. In 1990, Washington state began community notification of its most dangerous sex offenders, making it the first state ever to have any sex offender information publicly available.

Before 1994, only a few states required convicted sex offenders to register their addresses with local law enforcement. The 1990s saw the emergence of several cases of brutal, violent sexual offences against children. Heinous crimes involving victims Jacob Wetterling, Megan Kanka and Adam Wash were highly publicized. Several state and federal law were enacted as a response to public outrage generated by highly publicized, but statistically sporadic, violent predatory sex crimes against children by strangers.

In 1994, Congress passed House Resolution 324, the Wetterling Act, requiring all states to establish sex offender registries. Until that time, only a few states had registries. This act was in response to the 1989 kidnapping of an 11-year-old boy, Jacob Wetterling. He was abducted from a street in St. Joseph, Minnesota. Jacob’s mother, Patty Wetterling, led a community effort to implement a sex offender registration requirement in Minnesota and, subsequently, nationally.

The Wetterling Act required each state to create a registry of offenders convicted of qualifying sex offenses and certain other offenses against children and to track offenders by confirming their place of residence annually for ten years after their release into the community or quarterly for the rest of their lives if the sex offender was convicted of a violent sex crime. States had a certain period to enact the legislation, along with guidelines established by the Attorney General. However, if states failed to comply, the states would forfeit 10% of federal funds from the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act.

Under the Wetterling Act, the registration information collected was treated as private data viewable by law enforcement personnel only, although law enforcement agencies were allowed to release relevant information that was deemed necessary to protect the public concerning a specific person required to register.

After another high-profile case, abuse and murder of Megan Kanka led to the modification of Jacob Wetterling Act in 1996. Megan’s Law, which required states to make information about sex offenders deemed relevant to public safety available to the public. Before Megan’s Law, community notification had been discretionary under law enforcement agencies discretion. Under the new federal mandate, states were required to decide which information was necessary for public safety and make that information available to the public.

The most thorough legislation related to the supervision and management of sex offenders is the Adam Walsh Act (AWA). Named after Adam Walsh, a 6 year-old boy who was kidnapped from a Florida shopping mall and killed in 1981. The AWA was signed on the 25th anniversary of his abduction; efforts to establish a national registry was led by John Walsh, Adam’s father. Subsequently, multiple pieces of the AWA attempted to improve sex offender registration laws.

Title I of the resolution, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), establishes, among other things, uniform minimum guidelines for registration of sex offenders, regardless of the state they live in. SORNA requires states to widen the number of covered offences and to include certain classes of juvenile offenders.

The AWA organizes sex offenders into three tiers according to the crime committed. Registration requirements are defined by the type of offence the person was convicted. Convictions are classified into three tiers.

  • Tier 3 offenders register for life.
  • Tier 2 offenders register for at least 25 years after conviction.
  • Tier 1 offenders register for ten to fifteen years after release. (Tier I registrants may be
  • excluded from internet databases.)

However, since the passage of SORNA and AWA, states have continued wrestled with how to alter their current sex offender registries to comply with the federal statute. After more than 10 years and over 1000 bills later, 32 states are still not considered in compliance with the laws. These states continue to lose 10 percent of their federal Byrne/JAG justice funding for each year they remain noncompliant.

Some states are intentionally noncompliant. New York, for example, issued a letter citing the excessive cost of implementation and claimed the law would not increase public safety. Instead of SORNA’s crime-based tier system, New York argues that its reliance on a risk assessment that estimates an individual sex offender’s likelihood of reoffending better protects the public. Texas has cited similar reasons for noncompliance.

Other states have attempted to comply with SORNA, only to be met by judicial opposition. Ohio’s reclassification of sex offenders was held unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court. Massachusetts faced similar challenges when its use of classifications for registration was also ruled unconstitutional. Courts in both cases found that retroactive registering of offenders (as required by SORNA) was at least part of what led to the illegality of the states’ registries.

One of the biggest impediments to substantial compliance with SORNA has been the law’s requirement to include juvenile offenders in the registries. Many states have opposed these requirements, citing a higher likelihood for the rehabilitation of juveniles. Other states have implemented SORNA’s juvenile requirements, only to have those actions struck down by courts.

When Peopletrail doesn’t find an applicant on the Sex Offender Registry, it can be hard to explain to clients why the applicant has a criminal record, but not on the states and the federal registries. It would be great if we could confidently search the databases for a name, but it’s not reliant enough to be trusted as a stand-alone source.

Overall, the Sex Offender Registry is exceptionally complicated and broken in its current state.

Author: Katie L. Adams-Anderton is the Compliance Manager of Peopletrail. Katie’s expertise comes from her experience in compliance, bankruptcy and debt collection law where she has held numerous positions.

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The Difference Between A Background Check and A Fingerprint Check

When it comes to background checks, a common topic is the advantages of fingerprint background checks versus regular background checks. This topic is common simply because people want to know what the is between a background check and a fingerprint check. It may be surprising to note that for most companies, fingerprint background checks are often not recommended as a primary source of information. Fingerprint checks can supplement and support safety, they have significant shortcomings that make them poorly suited for employment screening.

Fingerprint databases were designed for law enforcement. As such fingerprint databases available to the public are often out of date are never geographically comprehensive. While some industries may find fingerprinting useful, many companies will find fingerprint checks an inefficient use of time and money.

Overall, name-based background checks are a better choice for minimizing hiring risks when provided by an accredited screener. Name-based background checks can be specifically designed for employment. In addition, name-based background checks simply are more comprehensive and compliant than fingerprint checks alone.

Check out our Pre-Employment Background Checks!

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3 Ways to Stop the Rise of Prescription Drug Abuse in The Workplace

A recent survey conducted by the National Safety Council (NSC) found that prescription drug abuse affects seven out 10 companies, but your business doesn’t have to be one of them.

The survey examined employers’ perceptions and experiences with prescription drugs. The results were staggering.

The results found that 81 percent of employers lack a drug-free workplace policy. Only 19 percent of employers felt that they were “extremely prepared” to handle drug abuse in the workplace.

But the NSC isn’t alone in noticing this problem. Quest Diagnostic’s 2016 Drug Testing Index also recorded a five percent increase in positive drug test results in the workforce—the highest in 12 years. The detection rates for illegal and prescription drugs are rising while the concern and need for safety in the workplace grows.

Drug abusers can foster an unsafe work environment. Furthermore, drug abusers cost twice as much in medical and worker comp claims as drug-free workers. More companies realize that drug testing services bring security and production benefits.

Yet, drug testing alone cannot maintain a safe and drug-free workplace. Employers must also educate their employees.

Employee drug abuse is best prevented when monitored by employers, according to the NSC. Employees who felt supported by employers also see a more sustained recovery.

Ensure a Drug-Free Workplace as Prescription Drug Abuse Rises

1. Drug Testing

Drug testing is an effective part of a pre-employment screening program. When choosing a drug-screening partner, be sure to choose a company that complies with all federal and state requirements.

As drug testing can involve several points and brush-up against local and federal regulations, the time spent on drug-testing can be extensive. It’s important to align with a credit reporting agency that values swift turnaround-times.

2. Drug-Free Policy

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a written drug-free workplace policy should be available to all current and prospective employees. This written policy should be an integral part of the employee training plan. An annual review of the policy is also a good idea.

This policy should ensure that drug screening includes all employees without exception. You may also want to consider including random drug testing as this lessens the likelihood that an employee will avoid detection.

3. Training

Depending on your needs and resources, you may want an experienced outside source to explain more about substance abuse detection and prevention. Drug education through both informative lectures and interactive discussion groups has proven to be a valuable safety measure.

Peopletrail now offers new online drug and alcohol training courses for your workforce. You can also contact us to schedule a complimentary consultation to learn more about drug testing and education services. Let us help you ensure a drug-free workplace.

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2017 HR Planning Opportunities

With changes in employment screening legislation, the largest I-9 paperwork penalties ever recorded,  and ongoing enforcement of background screening rules by the FCRA, last year challenged many Human Resource teams. As such, we have put together a list of HR housekeeping items to help our clients stay ahead of a few compliance, regulatory, and resource management opportunities in 2017.

1. Review Budget & Implement Best Practices for Employment Screening


  • The beginning of the year is an ideal time to assess best practices in employment screening.  Given the increase in I-9 penalties, it is a perfect time to ensure I-9 compliance through Peopletrail’s integrated electronic I-9 service and direct access to the Department of Homeland Security, and Social Security Administration’s E-verify database.  If budgets permit, it is a good time to begin implementing more in-depth screening procedures, such as adding motor vehicle reports and/or drug and alcohol testing.  It is also a good time to explore the candidate experience and ensure company protocols support a positive onboarding experience.
  • As of Jan. 22, 2017, employers are required to use a new version of Form I9 to verify employment eligibility for new hires. The new form can be accessed on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.

2. Run Annual Motor Vehicle Reports (MVR)


  • MVR’s are an ideal way to identify candidates or employees with unsafe driving records. In some states, convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs cannot be found on criminal court records and can only be revealed with an MVR review.
  • Companies regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT) are required to request MVR reports annually on their drivers.


3. Plan DOT and Non-DOT Random Drug and Alcohol Testing for Compliance


  • Random drug and alcohol testing is beneficial for many reasons, including: meeting regulatory requirements, allowing employers to identify employees who are violating the company’s drug-free workplace policy, reducing liability, fostering a safer work environment, and providing a fair way to periodically re-test employees.
  • Companies regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT) are required to maintain strict programs for drug and alcohol testing for their regulated drivers and safety-sensitive employees.


4. Healthcare Organizations – Run OIG List of Excluded Individuals


  • The OIG List of Excluded Individuals is intended to help healthcare providers comply with regulations relating to Federal health care programs. It supports reimbursement claims by health care providers by allowing organizations to ensure compliance with regulations and helps to reduce potential risks and liabilities from excluded parties.


5. Implement Ongoing Screening Programs


  • Some industries have regulations that encourage or mandate regular screening of existing employees. For example, verification of license renewals may be required in industries like health care, transportation, and financial services to ensure up-to-date licensure status has been maintained.
  • Post-employment background screening is a best practice for workplace safety and productivity. Staying informed of employee conduct throughout the life of the employment relationship enables organizations to mitigate risk and protect against negligent retention lawsuits.


6. Review Most-Read HR Articles from Last Year


  • SHRM recently published a few articles on the most-read articles from 2016. The past year was marked by increased competition to attract candidates. This coverage addresses the talent acquisition issues that resonated most with readers, including recruiting tactics, compensation, diversity management, and technology.  You can access these articles on their website:


Peopletrail has the expertise to help organizations perform ongoing employee monitoring, random drug and alcohol testing, and sanction checks. Please let us know if we can assist you in any of your resource planning initiatives in 2017.


Peopletrail provides Actionable insight you trust®. If you would like to learn more, please give us a call at 866-223-8822 or schedule a Complimentary Consultation today.

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The Fable of the Fingerprint

We get questions from people wondering, “does Peopletrail conduct fingerprint based background checks?” Yes, but there seems to be some widespread misconceptions. Many believe that fingerprint checks are always the best method to obtain information on a subject. This is a myth.

People probably believe this fantasy due to the many investigative TV shows. On TV, the good guys take fingerprints and then retrieve criminal and civil records, employment histories and other personal details. They look at one, all-knowing database before they catch the bad guys. In the real world, most of this data is not really collected or accessible. Unfortunately, the fable of the fingerprint is one that even our lawmakers buy into.

The Full Picture

Massachusetts state representative Michal Moran is a co-sponsors of a bill that would require fingerprinting background checks for Uber drivers. He went on record saying, “why wouldn’t you want the highest level of checks on your drivers that are going to be working for you?” Unfortunately, this statement is grossly misinformed. The FBI fingerprinting system—even by the FBI’s own admission—can in no way be viewed as the “highest level” of a background check.

The FBI’s database just doesn’t show the full picture. A 2006 Attorney General’s Report on Criminal History Background Checks conducted by the Department of Justice, cautioned users against relying solely on the FBI’s database for criminal record information. Around the same time, the Department of Homeland Security also noted in an official transcript that “[they] often get more accurate data from the commercial sector. In addition, the processes by which government agencies manage data often makes it difficult to acquire and needs [a] great deal of labor intensity into making it usable and accessible to other entities.” If the federal government won’t use its own background screening system, how can fingerprints be the best option out there?

Uber spokesman Taylor Bennet countered Representative Moran’s call for legislation by bringing up specific concerns noting that “the FBI database … against which … fingerprints are matched include arrest records for people who were never charged let alone convicted,” In addition, “generally only criminal records linked with a fingerprint can be identified and reported. This is not necessarily someone’s full criminal history.”

The Authorities and Fingerprints

The federal fingerprinting database has many issues with complete information. Across the country, The county courts that house up-to-date information have no consistent protocol to submit their information. This includes case updates to the FBI. In fact, the aforementioned Attorney General’s Report found that at that time, 50% percent of records in the database were either inaccurate or incomplete. Furthermore, even when the FBI receives regular and complete information from local sources, fingerprints do not accompany all records.

Further demonstrating the fallibility of fingerprint evidence is the investigation of the 2004 bombing in Madrid. The authorities wrongfully attributed the crime to American attorney Brandon Mayfield due to a seemingly accurate fingerprint evidence. At the time, authorities considered Mayfield’s fingerprint a 100 percent match to one found at the crime scene. They even confirmed the match with three FBI fingerprint examiners. After two weeks in prison for the bombing, the FBI recognized their mistake and released Mayfield. Of course, the FBI has likely improved their system and processes to reduce the probability of false matches since this case. However, this case demonstrates that human and technological errors can always yield incorrect information.

Next Steps

The accuracy and completeness of records in the federal fingerprinting database are questionable considering the false matches that occur. Given these clear problems, the FBI is making some efforts to bulk up their NGI database. Earlier this year, the FBI issued a Privacy Impact Assessment which outlined a policy to retain fingerprints collected for background checks. The FBI plans to store those prints in the database, even if they find no records connected to that person. This will make more subjects available in future FBI background searches. Again, this does not really help the ultimate goal of associating a subject with their up-to-date criminal record. At least there is the intention to make the database more background check focused.

There are many instances when using the FBI’s database and having a fingerprinting system is the best option. Fingerprints do help catch the bad guys. However, the idea that fingerprint-based background checks are the most effective is simply not true. This myth causes lawmakers to make policy in the name of safety that might actually impede safety. Background screening tools must always be used strategically in order to create the best search. Most problems require customized solutions.

For more information about background screening tools, call us at 1-888-223-6623.


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Background Checks Are Not All The Same

The vast majority of employers run pre-employment background checks.  Even companies that don’t screen regularly agree that they are a helpful way to build a successful workforce. The news is filled with stories that show malpractice in the workplace when it could have been prevented with a simple background check.

As an employer, it would be convenient if you could hire any company to conduct pre-employment background checks and be confident that the safety net will provide you with all the tools to make an informed hiring decision. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

The problem is that not every background check is the same. There is not one source or mystical database where all background screening professionals go to for consistent, up to date criminal record information. In fact, the concept of “background checks” is incredibly ambiguous and doesn’t speak at all to the quality or accuracy of the information produced by conducting one. A hiring official’s due diligence cannot reach its full potential unless the background checks he or she orders utilizes the most foolproof techniques and channels to find and verify criminal records.

Below is an example of trustworthy background investigation tools that employers can count on for most standard background check needs.  Also included are tools that have a place, but should be used cautiously.  Employers should ensure their background screening provider can strategically implement these tools.

1.  Developing the Subject’s Profile/Identity

To begin an accurate, cost-effective criminal record search, a background screening company must find out where an applicant has lived, worked, or gone to school in the past 7-10 years, which is the standard industry timeframe.  Employers can request this information from job applicants on an application, but to ensure no information is falsified they can request their social security trace search.  A social security trace search is an excellent preliminary tool for background checks.  It not only verifies the identity of the individual, and any alias names, but it also reports past residences of the applicant, this is crucial for step number two.

2.  Retrieving Criminal Records

After the application process, the background screening company requests records from the counties of applicant’s past residences. County records are the most detailed, accurate, and up-to-date searches available.

Studies show that, on average, most people person only live in two or three counties during a seven-year period.  For most companies, it is more efficient to verify information of all counties lived in by the applicant and possibly all nearby “touch” counties during the past seven years.  Any additional information usually outweighs the cost.

3. Gaining More Coverage with State Repositories

Statewide repository searches are also fairly reliable.  A Statewide search offers greater geographical coverage than county searches.  However, state repositories receive their information from local law enforcement agencies and the local courts. This means that a middleman distributes the data in state searches, whereas counties are the direct source.  State repository records might be incomplete due to manpower shortages, transmission delays, local privacy laws, and lack of enforcement authority.

As official records, county searches and state repository searches are the most reliable background check tools.

4. Strategically Using Database Searches to Keep Compliance

Another tool for locating criminal records is a database search. While employers can search nationwide for an applicant’s criminal record, use caution.

Database reports may not be accurate and are not as reliable as the direct source. Because criminal databases have multiple source contributors, there is no regulation or responsibility to update these records.  Some jurisdictions don’t even report information to public databases and they may contain incomplete records.

Never use database searches as the only source for locating criminal records. Always confirm every database record directly with the jurisdiction or county where the record was found. This is the only compliant way to utilize database information. The Fair Credit Reporting Act prohibits employers from making a hiring decision based solely on a database search. Be wary of companies that offer instant database criminal records as reliable pre-employment screening.

3.  Verifying Criminal Records

Employers should know that false positives, including undiscovered records, can populate in background checks if a background screening provider has no review process.  Criminal record matching is typically achieved by matching the applicant’s name and date of birth to the record.  Those are the identifiers most commonly found on court records.  However, knowledgeable applicants with a criminal past may supply fraudulent information such as an incorrect date of birth to hide an offense.  Credit headers and social security traces can confirm a date of birth, but may not be free from error.  Driving records are a very reliable source for date of birth confirmation.  Background screening agencies may find other verification tools necessary on a case-by-case basis.

Background checks are important but are only as useful as the tools used to obtain information.

Different industries and unique situations mean the investigation process varies, but with any circumstance, there is a “right” or “best” method to search for an applicant’s criminal history.  Seek out a screening company that understands the complexities of background screening tools.  Together, you can formulate the most accurate and efficient background check process to build a successful workforce.