You can’t be too careful these days. Whether you are looking to hire a new employee, checking out someone newly arrived in your neighborhood, hiring a babysitter or nanny, or checking out a prospective date, a criminal record search can be a vital tool for peace of mind. Many criminal records are open to the public; it is just a matter of finding the information. There are many free online resources to obtain information on criminal records including national offender databases, state records, and prison records.
Although many online sites advertise free criminal record search, most are no more than fronts for paid background search services. One site, www.criminalsearches.com, does provide a free online resource for finding criminal records. You only need to know a full name to start a search, although other details such as the state where the offense occurred or the year of birth or age range can help narrow the results. If you find a criminal record, the results will include the offender’s full name, any aliases used, a physical description, date of birth, the type of offense, and frequently the case number, statute code, and sentence received. The best way to test a site is to try the name of a known criminal and evaluate whether the results are accurate and relevant. Keep in mind that common names will result in a large number of hits that may make it impossible to identify a relevant record.
Although some on-line criminal record search sites may provide some information, a negative result from these nation-wide searches does not necessarily mean no criminal record exists. Some jurisdictions have not passed laws legalizing the dissemination of information in this manner. Many criminal records are considered public information, but the control and publication of such records depends on the laws of each individual jurisdiction.
Even though no reliable nationwide database that can be searched by civilians is available, most states have large searchable databases for prison records. An online search including the state name and the term “department of corrections” will usually yield a link to a free site that contains a state’s prison records. Many states include current and former inmates and have information about crimes committed, dates of incarceration, and dates of release and parole. The records may also include date of birth, physical description, any identifying marks, and a photograph. Crimcheck.com has an extensive list with links to over thirteen hundred local, county, state and federal public record sites.
In addition to state records there is also a free searchable database maintained by the Federal Bureau of Prisons for crimes adjudicated in the federal courts. The site, www.bop.gov, has an inmate locator feature that allows a user to search for federal prisoners from 1982 to present. The information provided is scant however, consisting only of name, race, age, sex, release date, and location of prison. The records do not show crimes committed or past criminal offenses.
The one exception to the lack of a nationwide searchable database is the National Sex Offender Registry. Many sex offenders are required by law to inform the proper authorities of their address after release from prison or while on probation. State government web sites and some federal sites offer free links to search for sex offenders either by name or by neighborhood. Anyone can use one of these links to check on a particular person or find all the registered sex offenders living within a certain area.
Whether checking out a prospective employee, date, or nanny there are a number of resources on the web that can help you obtain access to free criminal records. The information includes national databases, federal and state prison records, and state and local records sites from a variety of sources. A careful search can provide access to millions of public records at all levels of government that can provide peace of mind and protection for your family or business.